Regarding the Recent Discourse

For those of you following along at home, a pretty intense discussion has been occurring in the comments for my “Election ’08 Reflections” entry. And for my part, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying every single moment of it.

And it’s got me to thinking about debate and discourse, particularly its online forms. Online discussions almost always teeter on the edge of a cliff, always just one degree away from tumbling into an abyss full of trolls and snarks. As such, anytime an online discussion occurs in which the participants aren’t afraid to speak openly and passionately, and yet do so with respect and restraint, it’s something to be celebrated and treasured.

I suppose it helps — at least, for my part — that I genuinely like and appreciate the folks who are weighing in with their comments. Some I’ve known for years, some I work with right now — and that history certainly figures heavily into what I say, even as it’s something that might be diametrically opposed to another’s opinion. And I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if that — i.e., seeking to genuinely like the people with whom you’re debating, and even disagreeing — was more of a guiding principle.

It sounds rather Pollyanna-ish, I suppose, given that passionate-yet-respectful discourse is such a rarity in today’s all-too-polarized society. But it’s not altogether gone.

I’ve been particularly interested by the recent accounts of the debate tour between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens. The two men — one a Christian pastor, the other the author of God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything — participated in an online debate about Christianity, and then recently continued that debate via several joint appearances.

You couldn’t find two men who are more opposed philosophically. And yet, reading the accounts of their debates, particularly the “behind the scenes” accounts, I was pleased to find that both men respect, if not like, each other. They enjoy sitting down for a pint, reciting poetry, and so on. They’re not afraid to compliment and praise each other.

Such a thing gives me hope, and it makes me all the more eager to really debate and dialog — not to prove that I’m smarter, or to win a contest, or something similar. But rather that, if nothing else, I can hopefully say, as Chesterton said of Shaw, “all that there is of him is admirable.”