Genuine question(s): Do you recognise the difference between discussion and argument (I’m not talking about the merits of either here)?; Are you able to hold a discussion without it descending into argument?; Do you enjoy transforming discussion into argument, just to get a reaction and perhaps irrespective of your actual views on the topic?
I believe that the essence of discussion is a dialogue between two parties to reach the truth, while argument is trying to convince the other party that we alone have the truth and the other party should believe us. In other words, discussion is about exchanging views in a quest to find out what is right, where argument is more about clashing egos, (often) losing the plot completely in a bid to prove who is right.
Just to complicate things further, there are also debates. A debate is normally a formal forum for discussing a particular topic, where one person or group is pro-topic and the other is against. Each party will usually address an audience in support of their side of the issue. Debate is competitive argument, but three things separate argument from debate: rules; time limit; and a judge.
Here’s another way of looking at these three distinct forms of exchanging views:
1. To discuss – the verb, meaning when two (or more) parties talk about an issue. There’s no requirement for either to win or lose. A discussion, the noun, is simply an exchange of views;
2. Debate – noun and verb form, is a formal (and therefore controlled) and competitive exchange of views, with the intent that one person be declared “winner,” at least in the eyes of the audience. The primary purpose in debate is to test skill at rhetoric; and
3. To argue – the verb, is most commonly associated with anger driven expression of opinion, without care of how it is received and an unwillingness to hear the opinions of others. Argument is the noun. In an argument, two or more people will present their views, but the usual connotation is one of intense anger. Shouting and threats are common. In an adversarial court of law, argument is also used for each opposing side to express their side of the issue and sway the judge’s opinion in their favour. In the legal context, argument can more closely resemble debate.
All of these words can mean similar things. But don’t be confused, there are subtle differences. Discussion is conversation about a topic. Arguments and Debates are both types of discussions. Discussion has a pleasant feeling, but that’s only because most conversations aren’t contentious. When they are, we call them arguments.
So is any of this important? Well I (obviously) believe so and this is why:
There is a vast difference between liking to have interesting and energetic discussions or debates about something you care and/or are interested in and expressing your (probably otherwise legitimate) views in the form of angry dictat, dismissing the views of others and delighting in beating them into submission. Even more worrying, its just a short hop from here to developing a pathological need to provoke argument for the simple, passive-aggressive pleasure of gaining a reaction or upsetting someone.
I confess to being a pacifist by nature. I dont appreciate the benefit of, but do not avoid, conflict. I just approach it in my own stoic way. Its called ‘Peaceful Conviction’ and the world needs more of it.