On having responsible discourse — Part 1 of possibly many.

Lesson 1: Waiting is just as much a part of making a good point as choosing the exact words to make your best point. You do not need to point out the fact that you disagree with someone the moment you discover the disagreement.

Keep listening. Maybe this person has facts that you never knew or points you’ve never considered that shed light on your own position. These facts or points may open up areas of agreement between you that were not immediately present when the point of contention was first raised. Thus, agreement grows and disagreement shrinks, and you didn’t even have to say a word.

Ask questions. Actively look for the common ground before you go telling the person how wrong they are. Otherwise he or she is simply going to return the favor.

Sometimes people just aren’t ready to listen. Sometimes people simply can not consider an opposing point of view because they are to impassioned, or too hurt, or too wronged. Consider that someone who has the same opinion as you, but less sensitive than you, may have come before and was too forceful and too personal with their arguments. You must listen carefully to determine if the person is even ready to hear what you have to say.

Invest in the whole person for awhile. This means you may not get to bring up your point of view for awhile — as in days, weeks, months, or years. If he or she knows that you care about them, s/he will be far more likely to listen to your differing point-of-view. If you assert your point too soon, they may perceive that you do not care about them, and that what you want is to win a debate. Which leads me to my final point…

If all you want is to win a debate, then be honest, say so, and go to the people who are willing and knowingly entering the rhetorical boxing ring with you and go a few rounds. It’s not fair to punch someone who isn’t in the ring. Don’t enter into a dialogue under the guise of helping someone or trying to understand the other side if what you really want is to flex your rhetoric and debate muscles.

Now, in the words of the wise Rufus from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, go out there and “be excellent to each other.”