Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Last week I received some unsolicited advice.
You have to realize that you have a habit of being hyper-sensitive when a discussion doesn't meet your uber high standards of decorum. You have to consider that there can still be a good discussion even if it does not meet your ideal standards.
When I get constructive criticism I try to respond "fiat" and improve in the area highlighted if I see that the critic is right. But I don't think I'll act on this one. Decorum is vital in discussions; nothing gets done without it.

Decorum is a certain organization between people to facilitate a discussion. Sometimes, two people in discussion are so motivated by the truth that they need no help staying focused (like a bowler rolling a perfect strike); more often, some outside help is necessary (like rails on a bowling alley) in the form of protocols. I was taught a timed, structured debate style between two persons: opening statements, rebuttal, closing statements. However, decorum is not limited to this degree of structure. For instance, although discussions at TAC are in a loose seminar style and have a large number of people participating (between fifteen and twenty), policies like the dress code and the use of surnames add enough formality to hold everyone's attention on one topic. The more structured and focused a group, the more it accomplishes.

However, decorum is more than protocol. It includes politeness. Logic does little to convince unless they are put well and proposed gently, at a pace suitable to the opponent or audience. My first true debate was on contraception. (This was my senior year in high school, in ethics class.) I was con and one of my best friends was pro. Unbeknownst to the teacher, the stakes were very high: we were each defending our beliefs, the doctrine of our churches, and the practices of our parents. I remember the experience vividly: my logic overpowered her, and I saw it in her face. At my closing remark, I had the opportunity to triumphantly describe the clear defeat, but I did not. I tried to be tender. (We did not speak for a little while after class, but we are on wonderful terms now and she is a Catholic. Lauda Christi!)

(I can't resist showing this to you as I see it: a Euclidean compound ratio. Disregard this parenthesis if it is unhelpful. Decorum bears to debate a ratio compounded of the ratio logic bears to thought with the ratio politeness bears to counsel. Or, to be Cartesian:
decorum    =      logic ·  politeness
debate           thought    counsel
How I miss geometry! Anatomy was such a tease; my imagination longs for perfect solids and gnomons.)

Without logic, reasoning is poor and the search for truth is harder; without kindness, counsel repels and the struggle for virtue is longer. I prize decorum because I think it is a formal principle for truth and virtue. We must not lose it, especially considering our responsibility in the new evangelization!

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