Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind'

The rules of engagement

I've always wished I'd had a course in high school that was common in my mother's and older brothers' high school years, called "forensics." Forensics is more commonly known these days as the study of evidence (as in all those crime scene investigation shows now so popular on CBS, NBC, and Fox). But in the days in which it was a high school course name, and in the first definition in this dictionary, it was "the art or study of formal debate; argumentation." I believe that forensics was offered in high schools as preparation for the study of law, as at least in my mother's generation, most lawyers were not college graduates and even to this day many are graduates only of law schools (more comparable to technical schools than liberal arts colleges).

I think of this now because at this time I wish I knew more than I do about the formal "rules of engagement" in debate. What I do "know" is what I've been able to absorb from the culture over the past 50 years. But ignorance has never stopped me from charging ahead, so I'm going to propose what I think should be the rules of engagement in debate, discourse, and dialogue on this forum. I hope this might make it easier for some to participate and better use the list and the main purpose it serves.

1. Read the forum discussions to form opinions, learn, change opinions, or refute opinions. As you read, plan to participate by adding something from your own insight, ask questions, or argue against the writer's points. Try not to react to your hot-button words by imposing your prejudices on them but delve into what the writer means and is saying. By a "hot-button word," I mean here a word so charged in my mind or yours that whenever we see it it automatically rivets our attention. This may make us miss the whole point of the discussion if the "hot-button word" is used only in passing or as an example of something more germane to the point.

2. Pick your battles. What's worth fighting for in your values system? This applies to life, of course, but should be considered when getting into discussions and, especially, arguments.

3. Pay attention to the thesis or hypothesis. Are you sure you understand the proposition (proposed fact or point) you're about to answer?

4. Make sure you're right, then go ahead (Davy Crockett). If you're not sure what the proposition means, ask for clarification. If you're not sure about the definitions of any of the words used, look them up, or ask.

5. Assume the truism, "silence is consent." If you don't address a point, the writer and audience have a "right" to assume you are granting the point (tacitly agreeing to it)...even if you may not be sure what the point is.

6. Address the major theses (ideas, claims, points) before the minor ones. What is the major thesis this (article, letter, speech, proposition) is about...? For example, in a recent piece in which I took issue with Bob Lonsberry's opinions about the right to assemble in public facilities, I began by saying about his major points, "I agree with most of his points, but don't agree with what he said about protestors."

7. Support your contrary opinions with facts, or at least logic. "If 'A' is 'A,' 'A' is not 'B' or 'C.'" Examples of how your opinions work out in real life, either from history, experience, or speculation, are also helpful.

Seven is perfection, so I'll quit. I hope this hasn't been "talking down" to anyone and also hope it helps rather than hinders discussion here.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy


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