Short stories


To debate or to discuss

A dichotomy parallel to hierarchy and egalitarianism.

Although the words debate and discuss are often used as similar in meaning, they are far from that and should be used and recognized conscious of their difference in meaning.

Debating, which exists also as a competitive activity, is about winning or losing, a contention in words or arguments. It is about finding the arguments to defeat your opponent. The etymology of the word goes back to battuere, to fight or contend. It is about hierarchy, about being the best.

The etymology of discussing also reveals its intentions. It is dis, as meaning apart, and quatere, which means shaking. It is shaking things apart to find the details for examination in a discourse to search for the truth or a worthwhile position towards it.

The distinction has bearing on the relations between people and the way a discourse is being approached. Discussion is only possible if people are in agreement that they have an egalitarian right to be heard. It is therefore disadvantaged in a hierarchical society. It also depends on the capacity for doubt. A dogmatic truth cannot be discussed, because the believer in a dogma is not prepared to accept that it concerns no more than an opinion that has a very special meaning to this believer. Thoughts resulting from such dogma can therefore only be debated and are not open for discussion.

The basic attitude in debate or discussion is also diametrically opposed. In debate you try to find fault with an argument whereas in a discussion there is merit in trying to find out what is meant, what could be right. This has consequences for the time available or needed. In debate you can set a time as is often the case in politics. In a discussion you can make use of the time available as it is determined by the issue. If there is a fire, you don’t want discussion but action. In matters of belief, like the afterlife, you can spend a lifetime without having to come to a conclusion as it will be presented to you after life.

Another consequence of debate, of winning or losing, is that the outcome is black or white; nuance doesn’t get a proper chance. In a discussion you work towards the best achievable thought; to the best way to arrive at a goal as it is agreed between those participating in the discussion. In debate the goal is getting your way.

Debating is about what you know whereas discussion is about developing thought. If you take that in combination with hierarchical versus egalitarian relations, it makes the distinction between debate and discussion very relevant in societal discourse. Debate will be about defending the established order whereas discussion is needed to find new ways towards a more egalitarian society. Towards finding more sustainable ways, embedding humankind within the ecology, the totality of living species and the planet.