In support of debates for dialogue and education

Elyse Grothaus, Head Copy Editor

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“I am not here to win an argument. I am here to further a hard topic’s discussion.” Shannon Baker’s (‘20) words stayed with me long after last Wednesday’s abortion debate concluded. Together, she and Asha Aden (‘20) presented a powerful dialogue addressing the question, “Is Abortion Permissable?” What struck me most was not the topic of their debate but rather the structure of the event and their emphasis on presenting arguments for both sides of the issue.

In the introduction, Philosophy Society President and moderator Maxwell Eness (‘20) explained that they chose the debate format because panels and discussions often become “echo chambers” where ideas bounce around without direction. Debates channel ideas into arguments. Reflecting on my time at Luther and the many panels I have attended, I could not agree more. Luther prides itself on being a place of constant discussion. However, I often leave discussions excited by the ideas that were brought up but with a nagging feeling that there was a voice missing from the panel.

This is not to say that debates are perfect. Problems arise when debates involve a winner and a loser. Last week’s debate overcame this by shifting the focus from competition to education. Through this approach, the debate took on a completely different tone: a tone of dialogue. Aden and Baker repeatedly explained to the audience that they were not there to convince the other person of their beliefs or to win an argument. They were there to further a conversation and to educate the audience.

The debate’s format followed as such: ten minute opening statements, ten minute crossfire questions, five minute rebuttals, and brief closing remarks. This gave the event much more structure than a panel discussion usually offers. At times I wished that the two speakers could linger on certain points and discuss them to a greater extent. But there was power in the fact that the audience had to sit and listen to both arguments in their totality.

Although I characterize myself as pro-choice, I was fascinated by Baker’s philosophical argument based around the moral uncertainty of abortion. Due to the debate’s structure, I was forced to listen to her every word, without interruption.

I do not believe we should do away with panels and discussions on campus. However, I do think that Aden and Baker’s dialogue debate was much more effective in educating me on two sides of an issue than previous panels that I have attended. If anything, I hope to see dialogue take on many different forms at Luther. There must also be more emphasis on giving voice to many sides of an issue and allowing all voices to have equal say. Whether it be through a panel, debate, or discussion, Luther must continue its commitment to campus dialogue in an inclusive manner. Towards the end of the debate, Aden repeated Steiner Bryn’s quote saying, “Debate is listening with intent to respond. Dialogue is listening with intent to understand.” And how can we truly understand if we are not hearing multiple arguments?

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