We are a culture that has lost the art of rhetoric. We no longer understand how to have a discussion toward a common purpose and we simply throw things at our opponents' virtual heads until we grow irate or "agree to disagree" (which is arguably one of the most dissatisfying debate conclusions in the history of the world.)
I believe that it is still possible to have a debate/discussion without actually losing or winning -- That both sides can actually come out ahead by finding common ground in something and working towards a greater understanding of the other person's position.
The greatest intellects of history achieved their status by not only being able to articulate and understand their own positions but also by being able to articulate and understand the ideas of their opponents. It refined them and sharpened their minds. It also respected the process and brought them to the highest use of their talents. What about those of us not so gifted? We still reap those benefits. And because we are Christian, we are not ideally seeking the victory for ourselves, but in pursuit of the TRUTH for the greater glory of God. (That's what we do all day on Facebook, right? *cough*)
There is something wrong with the way we are approaching discussion if we are not deliberately looking for a way to understand and agree with our opponent. We have to be willing to be wrong. Even if we are absolutely certain that we are not, we must be willing to make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of our soul and the souls of others. I'll give you a hard example:
I am 100% pro-life. No exceptions. And in every conversation where I have used that as a weapon instead of a platform, the discussions have gone poorly and hardened hearts only became more entrenched. The only time a discussion will go well with someone who does not share my pro-life convictions, is when I settle down to listen to their story, enter in, and am willing to be wrong. I'm not saying that I will ever budge on a position I hold, especially in light of my conviction as a faithful Catholic. But I must be willing to let my guard down, lower my voice, ask questions, and really hear what is being said. To let the person know I hear you. Yeah... I can understand how you could feel so desperately alone and afraid. I hear you. And to not be so eager to speak my piece that they lose their voice.
More often than not, a pro-choice person does not wish to engage in discussion because they are not seeking the truth, they are protecting themselves from pain. But even then, there may be windows if you are not fake listening and waiting to speak... but truly listening. With the heart.
Sometimes you get f-bombed like a Quentin Tarantino movie. Sometimes they curse your God and threaten you with evil spells (not a joke, people). Sometimes they call you a woman-hater and a prude and threaten you with legal action if you even glance at them with compassion. But sometimes, there is a real discussion that bears fruit for both sides.
Another example where it would help to be willing to be wrong in inter-Catholic debates is when Pope Francis turns on his Dennis the Menace tendency to step into trouble. There are some people who will reject every criticism out of hand, because they simply don't know what to do with the idea of a Holy Father who makes gaffes. Their heart is entwined and a discussion to them is pure emotion and feels like an attack on their own person, even when it really isn't. On the other hand, there are those who go looking for trouble with Francis. And they will inevitably find it. Even if it means unnecessary division and hurt. It doesn't have to be those two extremes.
When a young mother says "I cried when I read what Pope Francis said. I felt like he threw my husband and me under the bus. We are already criticized, even by Catholics we know, and now people have more ammunition."... the WRONG response is to say: Well, you just shouldn't feel that way because he didn't mean to hurt you.
That is not entering in with love seeking truth. At all. The appropriate response is to acknowledge that she is hurt and seek to understand how those words could possibly cause that reaction in the faithful. Even if you don't feel the same way. "I can see how that might affect someone in your position. It didn't affect me the same way but... I can see it." It doesn't make you wrong. It makes you compassionate.
The Holy Father's interview words are not protected from inerrancy and consequently, we should not stake our internet debate claim on them. Be willing to be wrong. It is not the right hill to die on.
So let's talk comboxes and Facebook, where we talk too much and say too little. Is it possible to practice classic courtesy and truth-seeking debate? Of course it is, it's just very, very difficult. A good place to start is with our reactions to what we see posted. First of all, there's no need to get emotionally rattled by 99% of what we read. What a waste of time and energy! It's just people, their opinions and words and .... they probably don't know you and aren't writing about you anyway. On the whole, I'd say we read self-centeredly to the extreme and that really screws up our ability to filter to truth instead of to pride. Is it possible to read most articles and see a point on which we can agree? Of course it is. We are just limited by space and by our own eagerness to make a point. We are worried that someone might agree with the person we so heartily disagree with. We think if this idea takes off, the world is going to hell in a hand basket. We want to be heard and so we speak! And talk. And yammer. And blah blah past each other. So we miss the opportunity to engage meaningfully. We miss, in fact, the whole point of Christian discourse.
When I share an article on Facebook, it is usually because I enjoyed the article and found a good point or two in it. By posting it, I am not saying that I agree with 100%-of-what-is-written-until-the-day-I-die-pinky-swear. I am probably just saying This author struck on something worth considering. I'm putting it here for your consideration. And it will inevitably offend people. But that's not why I posted it.
I'm willing to be wrong about this but... I think that although we should pursue truth in all things as far as we are able, that does not mean we should seek to make others wrong. We should be responsible, generous, charitable, and truth-seeking... and seek to find them as right as possible. Then even if the conversation gets a little exciting (my favorite part), it's all good in the end. We are brothers and sisters after all. Sometimes we poke each other in the eye. Sometimes we have to apologize and sit in the corner. And sometimes we just have a great time laughing and growing together. Thanks be to God.