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Is Your Debate Style Passionate or . . . Poisoned?

Later this month, we are co-hosting a small, pro-bono conference-retreat for Catholic communicators — professional and amateur writers, speakers, media personalities, and social-media conversationalists of every level. You can learn more about the conference, and request an invitation, here.

The only firm requirement for attending is that you be someone who truly wants to eliminate bitterness and vitriol from your work as a Catholic evangelist.

This is an area that is difficult for me to get my head around. Like most people who write about the Catholic faith, I do the thing because I feel very, very strongly about what is right and true and good. Like most bloggers, I don’t just think Catholicism is kinda nice. I write about things I’m passionate about, and that means I take sides. I find that sometimes my opponents are pushing ideas that are dangerously wrong.

To care about something is to take a stand.

The Good Discourse conference is not about checking your brain at the door and quaffing the soma.

What it’s about is healing some of the vicious divisions that have grown up among Catholics of good will, especially on social media, among the past five or so years.

Sounds nice, but what exactly am I talking about? I’d like to share a few examples of what passionate discourse looks like after the poison has been removed:

  • I clearly and calmly dismantle my opponent’s arguments, without resorting to exaggerations, name-calling, slanted invective, or accusations of malice.

  • I make the case for my own position on its own merits, not merely on the basis of an attack of the other side.

  • I parse out my opponent’s case, affirming what is true and good even as I clearly reject what is false or bad.

  • I focus on my opponent’s evidence and arguments, rather than attacking their worth as a person.

  • I err on the side of assuming that my opponent means well. Unless there is grave reason to do so, I don’t need to address my opponents inner motivation at all. I can always go back and add to my argument later, so when there is more than one valid interpretation of my opponent’s motivations, I refrain from comment rather than risking slander.

Fundamentally, a confident and competent Catholic writer addresses ideas and facts without ever casting doubt on the infinite worth of the person made in the image and likeness of God.

And thus, one of the radical aims of the conference-retreat is to provide an opportunity for reconciliation among enemies. I want at the end of the weekend not to be convinced that so-and-so, the Catholic pundit lunatic I love to hate, is correct in his or her wrongheaded opinions (nothing wrong with changing my mind, but that’s not the goal), but that the two of us can respect and care for one another as friends despite our starkly opposing opinions on serious matters.

It’s going to be a small event. We who are running the thing are volunteers funding the event on our own dime, and we have no illusions about flipping a switch and causing peace and joy to penetrate every corner of Catholic media and social-media. But we know there are Catholics out there who want this.

So if you are someone who knows you get sucked into the mire far too easily, and you don’t want to be that person anymore, please request an invitation.

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