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THE DYNAMICS OF DISCUSSION

SUCCESS IN DISCUSSION

- 4 of 18 -

Success is a journey, not a destination. ---Ben Sweetland If you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavors to live the life which you have imagined, you will meet with success unexpected in the uncommon hours. ---Henry David Thoreau There is only one success; to be able to spend your life in your own way. ---Christopher Morely

 

The three thinkers quoted above picture success as driven by the individual. Not that we may simply declare ourselves to be successful, whatever the outcome. Rather, our success in an effort is determined by what we bring to that effort. IQ Odyssey will be a successful course if its main objectives are achieved. Likewise, we can posit a key principle for success in discussion:

Your discussion is successful when you achieve your discursive purpose.

Not all our discussions will be successful. We do not always achieve what we set out to. But we can greatly increase the likelihood of success in discussion by clarifying for ourselves, our purpose for entering into it. We certainly will not do well if we measure our success solely by the designs of other people. Not being aware of your own purpose, of course, defers the measure to others. So a key move for seeking success in discussion is to identify your own purpose for being a participant.

Measures of Success

Consider the four discursive purposes identified in the last section and think about how they can measure success in a discussion.

To express your beliefs to others. With this purpose, you will be successful when you present claims, explanations, and reasons that make your beliefs more accessible to others. Your success does not depend on other people agreeing with your claims. It is significant that they understand your points clearly enough to be able to respond perceptively to them. Even a degree of increased understanding on the parts of others counts as a success by this purpose.

To win some points. The success of this purpose depends almost entirely on the reactions of others. It is somewhat like playing chess: when the opponent runs out of moves, you win. People who only discuss to win are often satisfied when they succeed in silencing the other person (getting the last word) or gaining support from observers. It may be enough just to get the other participants to accept some of your claims without further objection.

To exchange ideas. Winning and losing isn't the point here. Success in this purpose is met when all the participants in the discussion express their claims and when the similarities and differences between the various claims is understood. It is possible to be shortchanged in such an exchange. You may give much more to others than you receive (and vice versa.) To assure success in this purpose, keep two points in mind:

1)When others are not giving back ideas that are valuable to you, encourage them to give you more. This can be done is friendly way.
2)When you are getting more from the input of others than you are giving, put additional effort into your contribution to the discussion.

A mutual exchange in discussion can be a very satisfying experience. It takes effort and honest cooperation. This is one way friendships are made!

To understand another view. This is a very personal criterion for success. It does, however, rely on your being able to respond perceptively to the other participant(s). If at some point you feel you have a better grasp of another person's view, and can express that understanding by giving an accurate account of that view, they should be able to recognize your understanding. It makes sense to find occasions in the discussion where you can say; "Let me try to express here what I think you are saying.....". They will usually let you know how close you have come to the mark. And that exchange becomes a way of extending the discussion.

To better understand your own view. This is the most personal criterion for success considered here. It is also the most difficult to measure and achieve. Socrates insisted that a necessary step on this path is to first recognize one's own ignorance. If at some point in a discussion you feel less sure of your beliefs than you did before or you realize that there are aspects of your view that you have not even considered, then we will count that as success by Socrates' measure. This will seem an odd criterion to people whose usual discursive purpose is to express beliefs or win points. In those situations, becoming less certain is a sign of not succeeding. This is a complex matter. A basic objective of InterQuest is to provide paths on which a journey of self-discovery can be launched. For now we can say this: when you discover assumptions and consequences belonging to your beliefs that you had not recognized before, you have succeeded in the discursive purpose of better understanding your own view. lastly, we will consider what happens when your goals are different from the goals of others in a discussion. At that point, your participation is at Cross Purposes.



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