A highlight from How to have good arguments with world debate champion Bo Seo


From standing up for what you believe in, to challenging conventional wisdom, embracing rejection, or finding gratitude every day, our show is your guide to becoming a little less terrible. Not that you're terrible right now. I think you're great, but helping me become a little less terrible. And maybe you'll pick up something along the way. You can find how to be a better human wherever you're listening to this. Hey everyone, welcome back to rethinking. I recorded today's conversation for another podcast I sometimes co host. The next big idea presented by LinkedIn. My guest is world debate champion bosio, who might just challenge you to rethink how to have a good argument. Bo, it's such a treat to finally meet you. Such a pleasure, such a pleasure. It feels like we've known each other a while now. I thought good arguments was exceptionally insightful and I learned so much from it. I was actually a little bit disappointed that I didn't read it before writing think again because I could have rethought a lot of the debate chapter in light of what I learned from your expertise. I mean, the same is true for me because I had the benefit of going off to you. I think I told you that reading that book changed my view of what this book could be. And just the generosity and attention you've shown to the community and thinking about how it's lessons could translate more broadly. That was really instructive for me. Well, honored. And I just learned a ton from your book. And I'm excited to be able to both dig into some of the greatest hits, but then also expand beyond them with some things I'm curious about. The place I have to start is, you are the world debate champion. How did you become that? I want to hear the story. 15 years or something like that. I moved when I was 8 from South Korea to Australia. And I didn't speak English at the time. And I learned that the hardest part of doing that was adjusting to real live conversation, and that the hardest conversations to adjust to were disagreements. And I was also wary at that time of drawing attention to my differences from my peers. As one of the few Asian kids in the suburbs of Sydney. And the combination of those two things made me resolve to be very agreeable. And the thing that broke me out of that was a promise that my 5th grade teacher made me, which was that in debating when one person speaks no one else does. And to someone who had been spoken over and interrupted and spun out of conversation, that sounded pretty irresistible. So it was a kind of a fit, really, and once I was in, I was hooked. And competitive instincts took over the joy of learning. The sense that there was a set of procedures and wisdoms and actions and drills and skills that you could trust almost blindly and hope that the results would follow. That's what I took to. And I started competing for my state and then for Australia and then for Harvard, where I did my undergraduate education and it didn't feel so much like chasing the prize of winning the world championship so much as giving into this current that I think had been running before I joined that will run after I've left this current of teaching people to make an art and a craft out of argument. Well, that's a huge part of what I want to talk about today. I guess for starters, what do you think that most people get wrong about debate? One thing that comes to mind is that it's an essentially destructive activity. One of the skills that people learn to master is dismantling, critiquing, finding holes in, noticing the ways in which authorities incomplete. But one of the things that you learn very quickly is judges and so debates have an adjudicator, someone who says who's won. And they are a kind of a proxy for the audience who's listening. They usually don't look for reasons to vote against someone. They look for reasons to vote for someone. And in order to do that, there's a limit to what criticism can achieve. And so if you can think of two couples arguing about where to go on holidays and one of them is suggesting Hawaii and then the other person is finding all the problems with that and then they say, you know, what about Mexico here all the problems with that? And imagine the person who was proposing all those destinations, getting fed up with all the criticism and saying after a while, what do you propose?

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