We all do it. When trying to win an argument or when trying to prove a point, we find the worst of our opponents and we debate them.
It’s true in politics—find the worst of the opposing party and define every political opponent by that one character.
It’s true in religion—find the most heartless person of another faith and announce every person of their system is like them.
It’s true in sports—the most obnoxious player to ever wear the jersey of the opposing team defines every person who has ever worn that jersey.
When trying to prove our point, our method of argument is to find the most absurd, the most crazed, the most out-of-sync person on the other side and point to them. Debate them. Show how our way is better than theirs.
And it’s an effective form of argument.
- Don’t believe in God? Point to Westboro Baptist Church.
- Don’t believe in Government? Point to Hitler.
- Don’t believe in prescription drugs? Point to the rare side effects.
Whenever you have a point to prove, find the most absurd proponent of your opposition and debate them.
- It’s why talk shows don’t have rational, well-thought guests. They have crazy loons who will yell the loudest.
- It’s why honest political dialogue no longer exists, because we only engage the extremists with extremists.
- It’s why you think your opponents are idiots—you have defined them by their worst members.
Debating the worst is an effective tool when your goal is to win an argument.
Debating the worst wins.
But what if our goal wasn’t to win? What if our goal was to improve? To find the best ideas? To grow? To learn?
What if instead of trying to win arguments, we engaged in debate in order to improve the quality of life, to find the best decisions, to explore possible weaknesses in our thinking?
If our goal isn’t winning an argument but is finding the best idea, we shouldn’t debate the worst; we should debate the best.
We should find the most intelligent of our opponents, the most ethical, the most likeable, the one we most identify with, and debate them.
If our desire is to grow, learn, and do what is best, we should forget the crazy outliers and engage those who simply see the world differently than us. In a culture of respect and admiration, we should find people with whom we can have a civilized discussion about important issues.
These are the discussions which matter.
Imagine how this could change politics. Instead of finding the most outlandish person in the other party and mocking them, we would find the most fair minded person of the other party and engage them. It would nourish respect. It would foster dialogue. It would remind us of what we have in common. It would challenge our core beliefs. It would open our minds to change.
Debating the worst is easy. It’s fun. It’s often victorious.
But debating the best can be life-changing.
What if we refused to play the sucker’s game of debating the worst and we chose to take a higher ground and only debate the best?