Fewer words and more intentional questions go a long way in conversations and debates.
In both, conversations and debates, your intent should be to understand one another.
In a conversation, you want to understand one another so that you are not in disagreement and you get closer.
In a debate, you want to understand one another so that you can find what you disagree on and lay a persuasive argument.
All too often I see online debates and conversations starting with assumptions and arguing from there. Often wordy, long-winded, hard-to-follow exaltations. Sometimes the assumptions are right, but usually, they are simply strawmen. An assumed position for your opponent.
The foundation of debate is the definition of terms. Without an agreed-on definition, one can— and often does— disagree semantically and think they are disagreeing on the topic.
So my recommendation: Use fewer words and ask more intentional questions. Understand one another first. You cannot disagree with what you don’t understand.
Truth matters. Words matter. Without meaning, words are pointless.
When you hear “school shooting”, yesterday is what comes to mind. And yesterday was terrible. Seventeen dead. And it took just minutes for the media to start talking about ways to prevent this, both sides having their piece, their take. Before the bodies are even buried, before most parents even knew their kid was one of the dead ones, we are calling half the country evil for supporting gun rights.
The statistic being quoted by many last night and this morning is that in 2018, a year that we are only some forty days into, has seen eighteen school shootings, referring to the reporting from a group called Everytown for Gun Safety. That is truly an appalling number. 18 school shootings. When you hear “school shooting”, yesterday is what comes to mind. And yesterday was terrible. Seventeen dead. But yesterday is not what Everytown is calling a school shooting. They are counting all shootings at schools or involving schools. Truth matters. Words matter. Without meaning, words are pointless.
So what does this reporting from Everytown mean? Eight of those eighteen resulted in no injuries or fatalities. Two were suicides, one in the parking lot and one in the bathroom at a school. One was a gun fired unintentionally, no one hurt. Of these eighteen incidents, three people were killed— not including the two suicides— and roughly 30-35 were injured, according to The Daily Wire.
We all wish that yesterday was one bad day out of a million good days. We all wish we had a billboard that counted the days from the last school shooting and it had been at 30 years. But when “we include suicides, accidental discharges, purposeful shootings without injuries, and purposeful shootings without only ‘superficial’ wounds” as school shootings on par with what happened yesterday our words lose meaning. We become numb. Yesterday was just another school shooting. That was the new normal. But it isn’t. It isn’t the new normal.
Truth matters. Words matter. I hope that you agree.
It’s tempting to imagine this means that the first humans called their parents mama and dada, and that those two warm, hearty words have survived the slings and arrows of human history to remain in use today. But the notion is too good to be true. Over time in language, sounds smush along their way to becoming new ones, and even the meanings people assign to a word drift all over the place.
The answer lies with babies and how they start to talk. The pioneering linguist Roman Jakobson figured it out. If you’re a baby making a random sound, the easiest vowel is ah because you can make it without doing anything with your tongue or lips. Then, if you are going to vary things at all, the first impulse is to break up the stream of ahhh by closing your lips for a spell, especially since you’ve been doing that to nurse. Hence, mmmm, such that you get a string of mahs as you keep the sound going while breaking it up at intervals.
Papa and dada happened for a similar pan-human reason. After babies begin making m with their lips, they pick up making a sound that involves a little more than just putting their lips together—namely, putting them together, holding them that way for a second, and then blowing out a puff of air. That’s p—or, depending on your mood, b. Alternatively, babies also start playing with their mouths a little further back from the lips—on that ridge behind the upper teeth that we burn inconveniently by sipping soup when it’s too hot. That’s where we make a t or a d. The order in which babies learn to make sounds explains why the next closest usual caretaker to mom is so often called papa or baba (or tata or dada).
Yes, it is tempting to imagine that the first humans called their parents mama and dada. You can believe that evolution made babies start with two sound groups and emotions immediately tie them to people, or you can believe that God designed us to know what to call our parents from the get go. Simplest answer is likely correct.