Inspired by many intelligent role models of mine who also happen to have extremely good characters, I have been approaching my political discussions quite differently lately.
First, I don't give opinions on things that require too much speculation. In practical terms, I don't want to waste time debating uncertain things that may or may not happen, or that may or may not be true. Let's focus instead on things that we know to be true or happening. This approach also prevents me from forming an erroneous opinion too early. I can assess the current situation, form an opinion, pause, wait for something new to happen, and then form an opinion about the new thing when it actually does happen. It's good to have some sense of where you might stand if something new were to happen, but my philosophical system is already well-developed-enough that I already have a good guiding light. No need to search for wild hypotheticals and debate imaginary outcomes long before they happen. Instead, I can stick to principles, and debate those.
Second, I lay out my thinking more explicitly. If it took me seven steps of logical reasoning to reach my opinion, I present all seven steps. That way, when someone disagrees with me, I can focus on the specific step or steps with which they disagree. The advantage here is that, when my reasoning is not made explicit, it's easier for my interlocutor and I to talk past each other; whereas, when my reasoning is made specific, we can learn more about the differences in our thinking, rather than the differences in our positions (which is probably already well-understood before we even begin our discussion).
Third, I make a point to keep discussing my explicit reasoning and its possible errors even when my interlocutor attempts to steer the conversation elsewhere. Here, "elsewhere" includes personal insults and the like. It's easy to get drawn into an emotional tangent, but people tend to discuss things more calmly and happily when they don't. Quite often, I find that I am more capable of keeping my temper and being patient with the other person than vice-versa, which puts me in the position of sometimes determining whether the conversation actually turns sour. If someone insults me and I insult them back, the conversation is effectively ruined. If, by contrast, someone insults me and I stay on topic, there is a chance that the person will get back on topic and not insult me again. I'll have saved the conversation, at minimum, and maybe even changed the way they see me for the better.
So, the above constitutes what I've been doing lately. There's one more thing I intend to do, which is contained in the title of this blog post: Keep track of when I win.
It's rare in casual debate for one side to graciously stop arguing, admit they were wrong, and congratulate you for having a superior argument. Instead, what tends to happen is that your interlocutor simply runs out of things to say. You make your point, she responds, you rebut, she responds again, you rebut, and finally she doesn't bring any new information to the table. Perhaps she starts repeating herself. Perhaps she says that she wants to agree to disagree. But in any case, she signals that she has nothing more to say, and you yourself feel confident that you have addressed each one of her prior concerns. That's what "winning a debate" really looks like.
So, the trick is becoming aware of the precise moment at which this happens. At that point, I'll want to acknowledge my win to myself: "Okay, I've rebutted all previous points and my challenger has nothing new to present." Then, I'll want to stop addressing the arguments that have already been made. No sense proving my point seven times over when my partner is already finished. Finally, I'll want to attempt to close things off on good terms. There's no harm in being kind, or acknowledging my interlocutor's best points at this stage since, after all, I've already won the debate. And I certainly ought not engage in insults or bad blood at this stage, since that would just mean being a poor winner!
In conclusion, I'd like to reiterate that this "keeping track of when I win" is something I am working on, not something that I am already successful at. This is a note to myself: Please keep track of when you win. I have a lot of work to do on this. Writing this blog post was really only the first step.