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International champion offers advice for Thanksgiving dinner debaters

Now a law student at Harvard, international debate champ Bo Seo offered advice to UVA students and faculty on how to debate with friends and family over Thanksgiving dinner.
UVA
Now a law student at Harvard, international debate champ Bo Seo offered advice to UVA students and faculty on how to debate with friends and family over Thanksgiving dinner.

If you expect to debate certain relatives this holiday season, Bo Seo offers some basic advice. First, he says, be prepared.

“You take sometimes up to a week thinking about what do I really believe about this, importantly anticipating you’re going to have to defend yourself. After you’ve thought about the best arguments for your side, you think about the best arguments for the other side.

Then, he says, establish some ground rules for the discussion.

"It helps when there’s a little bit of structure, and it doesn’t have to be as formal as it is in debate, if we can start our conversations from a position of agreement, that we’re going to get roughly equal time here, we’re going to take it in turns, so we don’t have to interrupt each other at every turn."

Agree, upfront, about what you’re actually debating and – where possible – explain your views based on your own experiences.

“There may need to be a period where you’re just explaining where you’re coming from. You’re telling stories.”

Listen to what your opponent says, and express your understanding of that view. It’s okay to be passionate but not hostile, and to recognize that arguments can be a good thing.

“Good disagreement is not just what good democracies do, it’s what they are. It’s an on-going conversation about where we want to be and who we want to be. + Each side is going to win sometimes and going to lose sometimes, but what the future of that society relies on is people walking away from a disagreement saying, ‘I would do that again.’ Because it’s in the silences that there’s a good deal of personal alienation – strains on the relationship, but ultimately a dissolution of the “we” on which society relies. “

For more advice, consult Bo Seo’s book. It’s called Good Arguments.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief