It’s easy to focus on the opposition in a debate and fail to realize that it’s not about them. This sounds strange to read. But we live in the age of information and misinformation. It’s easy for people to share their opinion without doing any research, especially online.

Personally, I’ve seen the positive impact that respectfully debating someone can have. In fact a portion my social media following is are the results of me engaging with the opposition. Through discourse, I was able to change their view.

In those instances, we were able to have a productive discussion. This in turn led to them seeing the issue from my perspective. All because they approached the subject with an open mind.

For this reason there are instances in which I would strongly advise you to walk away from a debate. Luckily there are common red flags that the person you’re engaged with will never agree with you. In my experience there are three. Hate, willful ignorance and emotion.

“I am not playing nice with idiots, willfully ignorant asshats, or people who can’t use their critical thinking skills.”


Let’s take a closer look at each of these three. This will help you become familiar with identifying what these behaviors. Consequently, saving yourself a lot of time and headache in future debates. Most of the time we can easily identify hate.

It’s a strong and powerful emotion that we’ve all been on both sides of; giving and receiving. This one does not require a lot of thought. You can usually identify it without putting too much brain power into it. If someone is using slurs, suggesting or promoting violence, victim blaming or shaming, they’re expressing hate.

Consider the subtle forms of hate that manifest as microaggressions. Examples of these can be found in our every day language (pretty for a Black woman, you look Mexican etc).

Arguably, microaggressions could be summed up as simple ignorance. Yet I would challenge that. If you’re comparing people to your preconceived notions of race, based on racist stereotypes, then on some level, you do hold hatred in your heart. It’s impossible not to.

“If you don’t understand what BLM means at this point you’re either willfully ignorant, willfully racist, or both. We DO NOT have to explain to you all why black lives have been HISTORICALLY and CONTINUE to be relegated as lesser than by not only this country but the Global North”

Willful ignorance

But what differentiates hate from wilful ignorance? More often than not, we find the two go hand in hand, so what is the difference? Wilful ignorance looks like someone committing to their blindness on an issue.

If I say ‘white privilege is real and here are some examples,’ and a person’s response is that I’m incorrect because they’ve never seen those examples or had those experiences, then they’re willfully ignorant.

When we hear credible facts and refuse to believe them, that’s wilful ignorance. We’re consciously choosing to remain ignorant. This is not the same as hearing facts and checking their credibility, you should do that because there’s rampant misinformation.

But if a source is indisputably valid and someone still choose to disagree, that’s their choice. But they are, unquestionably willfully ignorant. How do you expect to be heard by someone who doesn’t listen to, or believe credible proof?

“Don’t be an anti-masker. Don’t be an anti-vaxxer. Just don’t kill people because someone told you it was better to be willfully ignorant than to be smart. Please.”


Emotion is another red flag. It’s also the toughest to make a judgment call on whether to abandon the debate or continue. If the emotions are steeped in personal attacks or insults, there’s zero chance the person will listen to you.

Walk away immediately. Not only will they not listen, but they’re also displaying obvious disrespect. Have you ever truly listened to the words of someone you didn’t respect? No one does.

Whenever we learn information that challenges our world view, our first response is shock and denial. That’s natural. These emotions are to be expected, and if someone has an open mind, they can be overcome.

However, if the denial does not shift towards curiosity after you’ve provided additional information, that’s an indication this person is not receptive to what you’re saying. That doesn’t mean they won’t be in time (however long that takes), but that the present isn’t the right moment.

“There’s no debating or talking to those hateful bigots who are currently rationalizing the separation of children from their parents to tout some sort of sick, twisted win for a sexual predator. That’s why I block.”

An exchange of ideas

Keep the door open so they can talk to you in future when they’re ready. A debate should be an exchange of ideas. When it devolves from that, there’s no purpose served in continuing the discussion. This is a hard lesson, but an important one.

It’s critical to learn that some people aren’t ready to hear what you have to say. Equally critical is the ability to accept that and move on. There’s enough people who are ready, let’s focus our efforts on reaching them.

At the same time, it’s worth considering engaging with someone because of the larger audience that will be “listening in” to the discourse. Naturally you’ll need to prioritize your mental health. It’s up to you to assess whether engaging with someone is a healthy option for you.

“I can’t peacefully debate hateful, misogynist, racist, xenophobic bigots and I shouldn’t have to do that. Because I hate and reject their hate and racist misogyny, and xenophobia. There’s no debating people fueled by hate.”

Staying calm, cool and collected

Something to keep in mind when debating someone about an important topic is that they are not your key focus. My intent is always to spread education and ideas.

The goal is to get people to start thinking about these issues. Either more deeply, or in a way that’s different than they had previously considered them. This means the person I’m engaging with is merely a vehicle for me to speak to a much wider audience; everyone else who is reading the exchange.

Have you ever felt inclined to watch two people engage in a screaming match? Sure it’s interesting for the first couple rounds, but we all quickly lose interest and move on.

There’s something important to remember in these situations. We don’t usually even listen to what either of them are saying. So we seldom remember what’s been said after the fact. This is precisely why reacting to someone emotionally is not a strong strategy.

“Critical thinking allows you to find solutions. Thus, statements without support or evidence aren’t used in the practice, except when identifying them. Statements without support or evidence are called assumptions, and being familiar with them.”

Stick to the facts and data

Think about key talking points that you want people to hear. Think about the most alarming bite size pieces of information within the topic. Those are the keys of your message. That is what you are trying to convey to your opposition. Again, not for their knowledge necessarily, but for the knowledge of the audience that’s observing.

You remain logical by presenting scientific evidence and facts. In turn, you are much more likely to win over the minds of your audience. Remember, we lose control when we become emotionally charged in a debate.

If your opposition makes this mistake, it further supports your position, and gives you unconscious credibility with the audience. It’s important to know that the degree to which you allow the opposition to react emotionally will vary. How much it varies is based on your own level of comfortably and the person you’re engaging with.

By no means do I ever want you to put yourself in a situation that you’re not comfortable with. Or to subject yourself to verbal abuse or threats.

Your intention is to demonstrate that you are a logical, critical thinking, knowledgeable person. Particularly in this specific field or subject matter. The best way to do that is to remain calm and mature throughout the discussion.

“I love people who aren’t stingy about spreading knowledge.”


If you have prior knowledge of previous debates you’ve had with the same subject, it’s helpful to address those common misconceptions right out of the gate.

For example, I understand that if I address white privilege, my fellow WP will come out of the woodwork and try and dispute it by saying white privilege is a myth because WP struggle to.

To mitigate this, I will preface the conversation by saying what white privilege ism and providing a proper definition. This allows me to remain in control of the conversation and keep us all focussed on the actual core matters of the issue, as opposed to allowing the conversation to get derailed by white fragility.

It also makes any WP who were thinking that white privilege is a myth, feel heard before they’ve even spoken. Subconsciously, it signals to them that I have done my homework on this issue. It also conveys the expectation I have of their benchmark of knowledge required, should they choose to participate.

“sending you all love. pls take care of yourselves mentally & physically especially if ur out here marching for miles, if ur speaking out constantly every single day, if ur researching & spreading knowledge, if ur listening while also calling shit out when it’s due”

Practice makes perfect

What’s important to understand is that the more individuals you debate on a given topic, the more familiar you’ll become with common responses and ideas the opposition has. A lot of the time for people who oppose equality, they have nothing more than simple talking points.

It becomes obvious to us they haven’t given the issue any serious level of consideration. This is revealed when they cannot provide any knowledge of substance to support those talking points.

Focus on being proactive in your approach. Address any common responses you know you’re likely to get from the opposition. Ideally before they’ve even had a chance to make them. This destroys their argument before they’ve presented it.

By this I mean, if someone knows they have two or three ignorant talking points. And also know they don’t fully understand the concepts we’re discussing, this limits their options. They’re only going to be able to speak to those two or three talking points.

However if you address those talking points. And explain very clearly with facts, statistics, and scientific evidence why those points are invalid, the opposition is left with nothing to say.

“Spreading knowledge & resources is essential but folks be wanting lessons on morality & common decency. No one is obligated to teach you what YOUR principles & perceptions should be. Even if you get your hand held in the end you will still have to do the internal work alone.”

The wider audience

At that point my options are to react emotionally. Or to pause and reflect for a moment while considering listening to what you’re trying to tell me. In my personal experience, I have found that the former is often the approach people take. And that’s OK, because remember; it’s not about them anyway.

It’s about the people in the audience who are approaching the subject with an open mind. Maybe they’re thinking the same way as the opponent. The difference is they’re are willing to hear what you have to say. Those individuals will start asking you questions about what you just said. Solely based on the way you presented the information.

As I said, if you’re proactive in addressing talking points before they’re even spoken, people do feel heard and understood. Likely not the direct opposition, but the like-minded people who can be persuaded. This is the entire point; making your position accessible to open-minded members of the opposition by dispelling their stance with credible evidence and statistics.

“education is activism, education is protest”

The Next Step

It’s impossible to over research a topic. Invest time learning about an issue deeply. It will provide you with stronger arguments and win over a wider audience. Another benefit is that it will help shape your perspective to be ever-increasingly objective the ore you learn.

The intention is to share knowledge in order to promote equity for everyone. The point is to educate, not argue. Don’t get distracted from the goal. Flex your debating muscles as often as possible to improve your kills. Keep growing and learning and engaging.

“Let me explain something, we all have different roles. I am perfectly okay arguing with people online bc I understand the value/know: learning through discourse but that’s not everyone’s thing. Some people are MLK’s and Some are Malcom X. We need both. Know your role.”