The high school debate team was a great place for me to channel my argumentative tendencies.
I knew everything I needed to know to beat the competition because I'd just returned from a week-long research and debate seminar. I bounded down the stairs to the dinner table after spending a couple hours preparing for the next debate. I wanted to practice, and since my grandparents were visiting, I had an expanded panel of opponents. With dinner plates brimming with chicken and vegetables, I decided to dish out my opening statement—The government is never going to solve America's poverty. They've been trying and failing for years. Poverty will only be solved by getting more able-bodied people to work.
I looked around the table to see if they'd take my bait. My dad seemed enamored with cutting his chicken into small pieces. Mom took a sip of wine. Grandpa gave an audible scoff.
Grandma smiled and said I needed to take a seat on Miss Primrose's porch. I gave her a blank look. Who was Miss Primrose and what did she have to do with poverty?
Grandma was more than happy to take over the conversation.
Miss Primrose had one of those ideal porches for visiting, and she was famous in Portland for her pecan pies. Somehow, I had the feeling there were too many "p's" for this story to be real, but whatever. Miss Primrose was a matron in the community, well-respected, educated, and always seemed to be learning new things. She did this by inviting people to her porch.
Portland's mayor, a state senator, a school principal, and the Father of the local parish had all been visitors. Her legendary pecan pie helped, but it was her sincere line of questioning that made her famous. She wanted to know why people held the opinions they did. They had to have reasons; she wanted their insights to understand a disputed matter more thoroughly.
Miss Primrose had a deliberate, but kind way of using questions to yield concessions from the other side on volatile issues. Folks left her porch with the sweet taste of pie, and a perspective they may not have considered.
I sat in silence. Sure, Miss Primrose's porch and pie might work for her, but I had to stand before a panel of judges and argue against an opponent. Grandma smiled, and said "Rather than debate about what you think you know, ask questions that reveal the weakness in your opponent's arguments."
Grandma had never been in a public debate, but she sure was a great debate coach. I went back upstairs to work on a "sincere line of questioning." It turned out to be more successful than I ever thought possible. And I thought I knew it all.
In the confrontational world that is known as social media, perhaps taking time to pose sincere, kind questions might help us understand more than our own opinion.