Framing a Debate

In a political context, the topics that I find myself most passionate about are questions as to the welfare of our humanity. And yet, some of my ideas as to how best to create the world I want to live in are diametrically opposed to the ideas held by friends of mine–which means it is simply inevitable that these disagreements come up in conversation.

I try to start these conversations in one place: “Do you believe that every human should have access to clean water, food, and shelter?” To this point everybody I have asked this question has answered, “Yes.” It is possible to continue in that line of questions almost endlessly: “Should everybody have the chance to be happy? Live in safety?” At the end of that string of questions I’ve succeeded in building a list of our shared goals for humanity, which I then try to restate.1

I like to think of this as a “first principles” approach to debate, and understanding. From that point forward it’s possible to frame the discussion as a series of strategies to accomplish shared goals. No longer is the debate about who is right and who is wrong–it is instead, “which of these strategies will be more effective at accomplishing our shared goals?” It’s less threatening to engage, it’s a more fruitful conversation, and–instead of being divisive–the hopefully-engendered spirit of cooperation in attempting to find the best strategy might even foster a deeper connection.

  1. Occasionally I find that I disagree with a person on what I would consider a fundamental goal. The difference in opinion often stems from my insistence that the goals we strive for should be met for every person, unconditionally. In that case I tend to derail the original conversation and instead attempt to understand why we disagree on such a fundamental level. Back.