I had to re-live an important lesson recently. It was necessary for me to re-learn how much I despise debating. It's not spirited conversation that I loathe per se, but the rhetorical enterprise wherein two parties seek to offer the more forceful and acceptable argument in such a manner that the other will yield the contest. In such cases, the victor is determined when the losing party either concedes defeat or wanders away having lost face due to their burdensomely slower wit and demonstrably limited intellect or knowledge.
These contests among people are reminiscent of stories I learned about elk behavior when I was young . I've not consulted a wildlife biologist to check these details. Nevertheless, when I was much younger my father and I went elk hunting in Colorado with his friends and their sons. During the trip, and around the campfires, they talked about possible elk behavior we might observe. One of the behaviors we were particularly counting on was how the "herd bull" will defend the herd from other would-be challengers, or defend his place in the herd from younger bulls testing their fighting skills. If we hid in a certain place in the forest during a certain time of the morning and duplicated the sound of a challenge call or "bugle," the herd bull could be called into a fight, responding to the apparent challenge to his supremacy.
I remember practicing for hours prior to the trip trying to bugle in just the right way to attract a bull to a contest (that was ultimately supposed to result in our having a clear shot when hunting him). The audio tape my father had purchased played the ideal sounds that I tried to copy with the bugle he had bought with it. Over and over I practiced the bugling, the grunting and the snorting so that a herd bull would eventually want to lock horns with my fathers broadhead-tipped arrows. I can still make some of those sames sounds to this day.
Debates, be they theological, philosophical or political remind me a great deal of the bouts between bull elk that I sought to facilitate in the Colorado wilderness so many years ago. One man esteems his wit, knowledge or savvy as greater than another, so he "bugles" accordingly to challenge the other "bull" in the open field. In this case, however, it's over a table, in a forum, a cafeteria or classroom. The horns are leveled forward. Supremacy the goal.
In my case, though, I often feel as though I should act as the elk should have acted had he known that the bugle, grunt or snort was actually coming from a hunter instead of another elk. You see, when I allow myself to be "called" into a debate, I feel as though I've discovered too late that it was actually Satan in the tree-stand producing the sounds of a challenge to my place in the herd that I had to answer. Too late I discover that it is not other elk horns awaiting me, but a broadhead-tipped arrow that slices through the insides of my conscience. I run away, leaving a trail of blood for him to follow as he tracks me all the way back to my place to bed down. As he knocks his killing arrow to the string of his bow, I look up at him helplessly, wishing I had ignored the challenge to a fight.
I recently entered into a debate with some people with whom I much rather desire fellowship. As stated above, spirited conversations that result in realizing common ground are not the problem. It's the rhetorical exercise of debate that leaves me feeling much less human, and more like the dumb bull elk who didn't have the sense not to respond to the challenge. After all, what danger really exists other that a perceived one to my ego? Is my ego so fragile as to maintain a need to demonstrate supremacy? If so, how demeaning to think I have so much in common with any other herd animal.
If those I desire fellowship with have an attraction to debate, then I hope I will have the self-control enough to give them the field, compliment them on the grandeur of their impressive "rack," and quietly walk away. I also hope I will have the constitution to recognize that no need exists to defend myself to them. They are either a sibling in Christ, or a potential one, and true relationship will not be facilitated by losing self-control and "locking horns" in an attempt to achieve some arbitrary rhetorical victory.