Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Professor Sandel's Tip for Fostering Enjoyable Dialogue

Several summers back (I don't remember when exactly), I watched the videotaped lectures for Professor Sandel's "Justice" class at Harvard.  I remember there was one particular episode where 2 students were debating the merits of gay marriage and one student, a female, in order to make her point, asked the other student, a male, about something very personal, something which is inappropriate to discuss in polite society.

And then Professor Sandel stepped in.

In a very diplomatic way, noting that the students had been doing very well discussing controversial subjects and maintaining civility, Mr. Sandel offered some advice to the young lady.  He said something to the effect of:
"Be sure to make your point in the form of a general argument rather than an interrogative."
It struck me as a very wise bit of advice and so I remembered it.  I like it because the goal of argumentation and dialogue should be a respectful exchange of ideas for the purposes of mutual learning.  No one wants to be interrogated by an adversary--that's miserable.  But to have someone offer a general point for consideration in the spirit of cooperation and respect--that's one of life's greatest pleasures! It's right up there with a chopped-liver-pastrami-corned-beef sandwich...

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