In the face of the egregiously base nature of many of the topics that have been front and center during these Presidential debates, and notwithstanding the crass behavior often on display during them, I think there were some damn good reasons why parents should not have hidden their children from them but actively promoted their watching. The lessons I saw on full display were:
- Beware of your own success. Successful people can develop an inflated sense for their own judgment, given their track record of past decisions and that, as they grow more powerful, they may end surrounded by “yes men” who are reluctant to challenge their thinking. This can create a vicious cycle that delivers the successful person to thinking himself verily omniscient. When a strong challenger comes along, they may be woefully ill-prepared to answer those challenges and even emotionally brittle at being challenged at all.
- In any conflict, debate, dispute, argument, or negotiation, at the heart of the matter is a battle of issues and ideas. If you can’t stay trained on that, can’t marshal the facts into a reasonable and logical position, if you struggle to do this because of who the other person is, what they’re like, or given the nature of your historical relationship to them, and the other person can do this, you are exceptionally vulnerable to losing your head and your ability to maneuver with logic, grace, and influence.
- If it matters—practice, and prepare! There is no human endeavor, no personal talent, the performance of which is not aided and enhanced by practicing that skill in advance. While this is always the case in individual activities—playing an instrument, cooking, juggling, whatever—it is doubly the case when your performance will be impacted by an unpredictable other’s actions (i.e. in direct competition). In these situations, such as a debate, the possibilities for engagement become infinite, and the only way to optimize your performance is to at least explore a predictable range of your opponent’s behaviors and maneuvers. To just show up and wing it, no matter your inherent talent, is folly.
- Finally—and again, in the realm of a battle of wits—your every fiber may scream to express your views and your logic with all of your compelling and artful capacities, and STILL the greatest skill you can bring to bear in such moments is the art of listening. To make your best point is wonderful, yet to find the weak spot in your opponent’s best point and reduce that position to a house of cards post-sneeze is true and winning jujitsu.