The Lost Art of Passionate Discourse

| | Leading Organizations

In The Benefit of Dissenting Opinion Mike Myatt reminds us of the importance of vigorous debate.  I think the reticence of people to offer a dissenting opinion, or hear one for that matter, points to a more fundamental issue getting in the way of progress.

We seem to have lost the ability to have passionate discourse about anything.

Disagreeing does not equal disrespect, yet we seem to have developed a culture that doesn’t know the difference.

When people disagree they form camps around their dissenting opinions driving a wedge that shuts down the wheels of progress.  All too often, rather than disagreeing in the open, we have conversations behind closed doors plotting how “we” will win so “they” will lose.

We justify our actions in the name of political correctness, and judge these same actions in others as being “political”.  The resulting public conversations end up being more calculating than constructive, and more manipulative rather than honest.

The ultimate result:  we all lose even when we are committed to the same thing.

In a debate there is inherently a winner and a loser.  You or your idea gets “voted” in or out, at least for the moment.  What seems to be missing is the part where we actually engage for the purpose of learning and understanding so we can think better together and see whole new possibilities for how we can move forward.

Progress requires more than debate.  It requires passionate discourse; where we take a stand for our thoughts and opinions yet at the same time are willing to be influenced by the thoughts and opinions of others.

What do you think?  How can we encourage the kinds of conversations that can truly move us forward?


Enter A Comment

Rick Ross   |   29 October 2010   |   Reply

“We all lose even when we are committed to the same thing”, excellent point! How can we encourage the important discourse that we know isn’t happening? Of course, the first step toward solving any problem is acknowledging it. This post does a wonderful job of doing just that.

The root of the problem may stem from the fact that people associate disagreement with risk. Unfortunately, this is often a valid concern.

For those with whom we interact, the first step to addressing the issue is communicating that it’s safe to disagree. But just saying so isn’t enough. Your actions have to reflect it too. With time and integrity trust will be established and the wealth of value inherent in disagreement will be uncovered.

One thing on which we can all agree. Creating a safe environment isn’t easy. It requires a conscious commitment and consistent effort.

Thank you Susan!

Michelle Delebet   |   02 November 2010   |   Reply

Susan, great post.

I agree with Mike that this issue needs plenty of airtime, and some. Dawn’s right too…we need to start with the children – teaching them about diversity, healthy conflict and dynamic discourse to set the future on a better path. However, here we are, no longer children amongst other adults and how do we begin the process of change for them?

I’ve been giving this some thought after reading some of the Moonshots at The MIX. And I think it begins with reeducating adults about winning and winning – how to, and why to.

Perhaps it’s the after-effects of a tumultuous century with abundant progress teamed with serious fiscal downturns that encourages the win/lose formula we see and experience so often now. The “*I* must survive and prevail” mentality.

It’s time for humanity to turn to each other, engage in (respectful) passionate discourse in the spirit of wins for all, open to the opportunities that diversity of thought can bring – if only to realistically assess risk as a minimum reward. Jay’s right, not every conversation is about solving or deciding…many are simply about exploring.

Too idealistic? No way! Let’s turn the tables to ‘we all WIN when we are committed to the same thing’ .

Great discussion, thanks.

Mike Myatt   |   29 October 2010   |   Reply

Thanks for referencing my thoughts in your post Susan. Frankly, I don’t think it possible to give this topic enough air time. Well Done!

Dawn   |   04 November 2010   |   Reply

What a fantastic discussion, Susan! There are so many great points here. Thank you so much for sparking our thoughts and letting us bounce them around.

It truly is up to each of us to change from the “me” focus to the “we” focus. Children, teens, parents, teachers, school administrators, politicians, CEO’s can all play a part in changing the paradigm. Small steps will pave the way to a brighter future.

In the meantime, keep up the great work, Susan.

Dawn   |   29 October 2010   |   Reply

Thank you for bringing this up! I see the same thing happening everywhere.

Somewhere along the line, people have learned that it’s not okay to disagree. Groupthink spreads like wildfire, and I strongly believe it’s a major reason the world is in the trouble it’s in right now.

You had written a post once about the importance of asking questions. Well, this goes along with it, too. If people aren’t willing to debate and consider opposing points of view, then they’re not asking all the necessary questions.

How do we fix it? Well, it starts with how we parent and how we teach our children. The more we focus on the questions, as opposed to just the answers, the more likely it is that future generations will move toward “passionate discourse.”

Thank you for such a thought-provoking post.

Susan Mazza   |   04 November 2010   |   Reply

Thank you for the robust comments Rick, Dawn, Jay and Michelle. And Mike, thank you for the inspiration!

I’ve read each of your comments a few times and you each provide a very rich insight.

Rick: Great point that people associate disagreement with risk. Safety is essential for people to be willing to disagree and it can be hard work to create it.

Dawn: Love your point that we need to learn to focus more on the questions rather than the answers and that it starts with how we teach our children.

Jay: Absolutely, leaders set the tone and not just about whether it is safe to disagree, but by encouraging different kinds of conversations. To your point, every conversation doesn’t have to be about problem solving; exploration is key.

Michelle: This is such a foundational point: that it’s time to shift from “The “*I* must survive and prevail” mentality to turning to one another. Some may think this is idealistic. I happen to think it is essential to our survival.