Discussion, dialogue and debate when used to the fullness of their potential are spaces for what can be significant transformation and generative insight. When we engage from a place of calm nervous systems and seek to discover a sense of mutual understanding, and then take that further through working with differences in viewpoint we open up a space for growth and transformation. Both parties, and even the wider collective, expands in wisdom through this kind of practice.
On the other hand when we engage from reactive triggers (whether they are owned or not), seek to attack, criticise, undermine and overwhelm another for the differences they hold we move into a degenerative space. The result of this is heightened nervous system activity in the form of fight (return aggression and stubbornness), flight (defending and back-pedalling) or freeze (retreat and avoidance) which naturally results in a narrowing of focus and a limitation of creativity and the potential to expand and grow. The stress of such encounters can be harrowing and cause individuals receiving such a bombardment to contract and take time ranging from hours up to days or weeks to recover from such an attack depending on the prior history. No-one truly benefits from this kind of behaviour and the world does not change or evolve through these kind of discussions.
Difference is a natural phenomena of reality. There will always be points of difference and we can seek to widen our scope and engage in the co-creative process of collective meaning-making by embracing and working with difference. Or we can perpetuate a traumatised world by continuously asserting that our views are the only correct ones.
The nervous system is an incredibly precious thing and worth treating as a valuable commodity. We always have the right to choose how we want to engage, and if someone is interacting with us in a way that is causing an internal stress response, we always have the right to walk away and maintain our healthy boundaries by not engaging with that kind of behaviour.
Below I articulate an example of what the move towards a generative dialogue looks like, and another of what a degenerative dialogue looks like. We can seek to practice this in our own engagement with others, and we can use the pointers for degenerative discussion to refuse to engage with those who insist on operating from an erosive attitude.
An example of how to have a generative dialogue/discussion/debate/argument (online or offline)
Own that whatever you are feeling, thinking and experiencing in response to hearing or reading another's point of view is happening inside of you and is based on your own internal set of filters, conditioning and history.
Share that internal process, tentatively, into the space... "Reading what you wrote I'm noticing myself feeling contracted inside and an upwelling of anger through my belly"
Understand that you are undergoing an internal process of meaning-making in response to this information that may, or may not, be an accurate representation of what was being shared. Your meaning-making is not necessarily the truth of the situation, and definitely does not encapsulate the entire context.
Share your meaning-making process, tentatively, into the space... "to me, when I read this, I make up that it means you are saying that you don't like cats"
Recognise that as your meaning-making is your own process, that it might not actually be what is being said, so check if it's true or not... "am I getting that right?"
Open the space for them to respond and confirm/disconfirm your understanding of their viewpoint. Listen. Really listen. What the other is saying may shift in response to what you share. This is not necessarily because they are defending, more so that if you are truly giving genuine attention, it will help them clarify their viewpoint which may look like adjustments on the original share. This is a beautiful gift to give.
After they have shared their viewpoint, reflect back to them to confirm you truly are on the same page... "ah right, so you are actually saying that you don't like cats with really long hair because they shed too much hair and give you allergies, but you do like cats in general"
Again open the space for them to confirm/disconfirm that you are on the same page. This may take a few iterations until they say some variation of "yes, that is what I'm saying".
Once you are on the same page, if you are finding you still have an objection or concern or differing viewpoint than them, share the impact on you and if they are willing to receive your differing view or enter into a deeper discussion with you... "I'm noticing I still feel contracted around this topic, and I have a different viewpoint. Are you open to hearing it and having more of a dialogue?"
Consent is an amazing thing. Wait for their consent. If they don't give it, then thank them and let the whole thing go. They may not have the emotional bandwidth to engage you here at this moment, or any other variety of possibilities. Respect their boundaries.
An example of how to have a degenerative dialogue/discussion/debate/argument (online or offline)
Immediately assume that because you are having a visceral reaction to their viewpoint that it is correct. Your feelings, thoughts and experience are absolutely and always true and they are obviously in the wrong because you are feeling it.
Tell them that they are wrong by projecting those feelings and thoughts onto them without ever owning that it is your own experience. Make them the source of the problem... "you are a horrible person"
Blatantly assume your meaning-making is the real deal. If you think it, then it is true. You don't have any prior conditioning or history that is informing your viewpoint and because they are offering a different one than you then they are obviously and immediately in the wrong.
Tell them why they are wrong. It's even better if you focus in on one small part of their presentation and take it entirely out of context, blowing it up out of proportion and then using it to attack them. Extra points for nitpicking.
Ask leading questions designed to lure them into making a fumble or to present an obvious (to you) fallacy and then use their responses to attack them further.
Give them no room to clarify or shift their viewpoint as they make sense of their own inquiry. Remain fixated on the original thing that upset you, and stay focused on bludgeoning them with how wrong they are for having thought that.
Scour their words and responses for any potential character defects and amplify them in order to undermine them as a person. Perform a character assassination by equating what you find with them as a person. Undermine their entire argument by exposing how horrible a person they truly are.
As they become increasingly agitated and attempt to defend their viewpoint, accuse them of being defensive. Use their defensiveness and agitation to accuse them further and assert that you are doing a moral service by exposing them. I mean you are feeling upset by something they said, so obviously there is something wrong with them... right?
Never make any attempt to gain mutual understanding. Every response that they give, find a way to turn it back against them and continue to expose the obvious, to you, wrongness in their viewpoint.
Never ask for consent. Never check in if they are willing to hear your viewpoints or engage in a discussion with you. Assume that because they said or wrote something it gives you the immediate right to criticise, attack and undermine it as you want... free speech, right?
*Bonus* If they are a professional, add weight to your argument by criticising and attacking their position as a professional.