User Guide For Debates

Contributing Editor Walt Pickut
Contributing Editor Walt Pickut

This is not about how to stage a debate. It is a guide for listening to one.

Step one: Listen. American philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”

Step two: Think. Hearing without thinking makes one a leaf blown by the wind.

Step three: Do not believe only what you agree with. “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” warns author Flannery O’Connor.

Step four: Do not root for your favorite debater. That deafens you to everything else. That is dangerous – UNLESS you already know everything there is to know. In that case, stop reading now and skip the debate.

Step five: Open your mind to the people you don’t like and don’t agree with. A difference of opinion is not an IQ test that people fail by disagreeing with you – and your favorite debater.
Step six: Learn more than you knew when the debate started. If you end up with nothing new in your mind you will find yourself no wiser.

This week your Jamestown Gazette invites you to attend – on TV, radio, or Internet – the “Three Candidates’ Debates” on October 8 and October 15. They are guaranteed to give our “User Guide For Debates” a good workout. They will do the same for your mind.

Here is the key. Political candidates who disagree with each other have worked hard and deliberated long over their positions. They are neither lazy nor are they stupid people.

As a result, it is unlikely that any candidate will be entirely wrong.

So, remember that whoever wins must serve the voters who agree with them AND voters who disagree with them. The voters on the losing side deserve fair representation.

A debate, therefor, helps voters understand all points of view. You can understand someone without agreeing. That’s how to find a middle ground that does not abandon people with a different point of view.

A debate well run and carefully listened to is the antidote to the hyper-polarization of our current political climate. The few—but vocal—minority who insist on having every decision come down on their side have no useful function in a well-ordered democracy.

A political debate and a democratic election are not sporting events. The terms “winner and loser” have different meanings than in a competitive sporting event.

In politics done right, winners and losers are all citizens on the same team, not opponents where “Winner takes all.” In a well-run democracy, “Winner serves all.”

One warning has to be added to this User Guide.

Opinions expressed with name-calling and insults, sarcasm and ridicule, are a sign that the debater is unprepared and insecure. The User Guide for Debates defines those as a debate malfunction. The wise listener will disqualify all opinions delivered in such terms.

The late Barbara Jordan, a Texas lawyer, educator, politician and Civil Rights leader said, “It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

So, please join the Jamestown Gazette, tune in, and participate in the upcoming debates by being the skilled, careful listener without whom no one can really tell the truth.

And, of course, enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.