How do you have a discussion when you disagree? Unless, no one should disagree be cause "its settled". was asked over at http://expeditionportal.com/forum/showthread.php?t=17837&page=6 by TheGillz. That's a point near and dear to my heart, and to what bothers me about much of the public ... words ... that are spoken regarding climate (actually most science, I just know this area better than most others).
It really isn't hard, just not the sort of thing we're used to seeing any more (in the US at least). We're used to seeing debates and listening to them on talk radio. It's also something of how cases are tried in court and we have many courtroom shows on TV. Namely, you set up two people and they have to defend some position (or attack the other guy's -- often they never present any positive information about their own). There are good reasons for doing it this way in law. But it isn't good for public understanding. I'll leave aside formal debate, but this captures what I think most of us have in mind regarding debate.
So what does discussion look like between two people who do disagree? No problem. My wife and I don't agree about everything, so we discuss the matters. Some things we'll probably never agree on, but we can understand why the other person thinks as they do even without agreeing with their conclusion. This is an important part of a discussion -- part of what you're after is to understand the other person's view and reasons. Time to be neutral and just listen. Just what do they think? Why do they think it? Sit back a little and let them speak for themselves; there'll be time for you to explain why their evidence is shoddy and their conclusions unsupported :-) But you can't have a civil discussion without understanding the other person.
Conversely, you have to think some about just why you have reached your own conclusion. Can't explain it without thinking about it yourself. This is related to the business that you generally understand things better yourself if you try to teach it to someone else. It is easier to hold a conclusion than to explain one, and far easier to hold it than to defend it. So the two of you explain your conclusions and how you got there. If it were debate, then you start the mutual attacking and never budging from your original point. That, I find boring.
Discussion, on the other hand, is interesting. In discussion, you may both change your minds. You had some good reasons that lead to your conclusion, but so did your partner in discussion. (At least assume that to start with!) As you discuss, your partner may point out that one of your sources doesn't really support your conclusion (as, say, I have in looking at some sites). This doesn't make you a bad person, but it does mean that you need to find a stronger source to support that point -- or else modify your conclusion. Also doesn't mean that you have to abandon your eventual conclusion, just some portion of it, or maybe to place less confidence on it. Conversely, as you look at your partner's sources and reasons, they may well have encountered some information that you haven't -- and those different sources might lead you to a new position for yourself.
In a really good discussion, you both leave with different conclusions than you started with. In this vein, I've also had a discussion where a group of us started out in agreement in one direction (that a certain proposal was good) and as we discussed our reasons, wound up in agreement that the proposal was not good. People in general agreement can have discussions too, and wind up far from their original opinion.
Since the point of discussion is understanding, rather than 'winning', you can also relax a bit about ego. If you have a discussion and your new understanding has you change your mind, great! You understand more. If the person you're talking with changes their mind some because of the good information you provided, also great!
There are plenty of other places to go if what you want is debate. And plenty of others where you can see only one view, which is, to me, even less interesting than debate. Here, I'm looking for discussion, or at least helping folks do some learning.
Anyone else have a (brief) example of a good discussion they had?
Come See Me at Star Trek: Mission New York
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