If you challenge nothing, you challenge no one | Matthew Cowley

One of the first things you learn in debating is that understanding the arguments in favour of your position is only half the battle when making a watertight case. A good debater should be able to understand in detail the arguments that their opponents might make, because in understanding those arguments you can find potential weaknesses in their positions, but more importantly, you can ensure that you know where the pitfalls of your arguments are and how to strengthen them against likely points.

Thinking about things from someone else’s perspective is a vital part of ensuring that our arguments are coherent and cohesive. It is also an important means of improving the policies that we are espousing. There is (within reason) no such thing as a wrong argument in politics, and every ideology isolates a different series of problems and solutions dependent on their worldview. With that in mind, putting yourself into the mindset of a political opponent ensures that you can tailor your arguments in such a way that they will appeal to people who might be less inclined to agree with your preferred policy prescription for the same reasons that you do.

Ideology really isn’t very black and white. Different ideologies can support the same policies for remarkably different reasons, and oftentimes non-political people who don’t subscribe to a particular ideology will have a distinct worldview that fits in nicely with ideological tropes, so knowing how others might be convinced to perceive your policy positively is important in political campaigning.

It helps that there are usually common patterns to what each ideology desires, but short of actually debating from the other perspective and thereby learning how to put yourself in that mindset, the best way to really shape good arguments is to follow a twofold system: talk to people of all political perspectives and try to avoid echo-chambering your social media to ensure that you come across a multitude of nuanced ways of looking at and thinking about issues; and constantly look critically at the things you believe in to try to refine your positions and ensure that they are built on as strong a foundation as possible.

This is all fairly obvious stuff, but it in an era of increasingly acrimonious debate and partisan politics it is important to say it. Partisanship can breed complacency in politics because it doesn’t encourage people to put policy under the microscope and because division makes it much more difficult to understand someone else’s perspective. If you judge people, or worse policies, by their party and not by their own attributes, then you close yourself off from a real opportunity to improve your personal convictions.

No one person can come up with perfect policy, but you can come up with solid, well thought through policy only by being open to challenging the fundamentals of your own worldview and tweaking things to add nuance when something seems weak. Debate and discussion with an intention to reach common ground and gain greater understanding of an issue is always important – even the nuance in reasoning between two people with a similar ideological perspective helps to make better policy.

In an era of increasingly divided politics, never has it been more important to take the time to talk to opponents and really consider why it is that we advocate the policies that we advocate. Ultimately in politics, if you challenge nothing that you believe, you’ll challenge no one.

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