In my last post, we covered that in order to be effective communicators, not only must we cater to the audience’s mind, but to the audience’s heart. Let’s apply this to a specific example: fairness. In short, not only must you win the flow, you must win on “fairness.”
Fairness is Important
“Fairness” is an elusive concept. It is not easily defined and certainly is subjective. Our criteria on fairness seem to be based on preconceived notions of what is just, deserved, and good. I believe the communicator that appears to be the fairest, will, more often than not, be the most effective at communicating their idea.
According to the Foundation for Economic Education, “A recent study in Nature argued, with evidence, that what bothers people more than inequality per se is “unfairness.” “ I bring this up not to compare “fairness” with inequality, but to demonstrate that fairness is a concept important to mankind.
One thing I’ve observed: Even if you “win the flow,” if you lose on fairness, you will probably lose the debate.
After observing many debate rounds, I have noticed a very strong correlation between the team/debater whose position appears more “fair” and the team/debater who wins the round, especially outrounds.
Take the NCFCA LD Resolution this year. It seems that AFF (Rehabilitation) succeeds over the NEG (Retribution) a disproportionate amount in outrounds, especially in finals. I wonder if one reason this is the case is that it is easier to impact one’s arguments to individual people when arguing for rehabilitation then when arguing for retribution?
This is something that I personally struggle with – making my side appear fair. In the past two years, I have lost several AFF rounds I thought I “should” have won based on the flow. Then, in retrospect, I noticed that those rounds were the rounds where my opponents did an excellent job explaining why my plan is a bad idea on an individual level. They did an excellent job convincing the judge(s) that our plan would be “unfair” to certain people who could possibly lose out under our policy. Yes, they did use emotional examples, pathos, and rhetoric, but they used them successfully. I, on the other hand, failed to demonstrate how the policy was “fair” to specific individuals who would benefit under if our policy were passed.
To repeat: Even if you “win the flow,” if you lose on fairness, you will probably lose the debate.
How to be the fairest of them all.
So, how do you appear fair? In one sentence: communicate on a personal level. Stand for something. Don’t play defense. Actively go back to why your position is advantageous. Be positive. Most importantly, though, impact to the individuals who benefit from your position. Make it clear to the judge that your position is fair to someone; to a someone that matters.
This is not sophistry. Real-world communication, when reduced to its final impact, is about helping real people. Thus, our arguments should reflect that we are talking about real people who really matter. If so, I think your empathy with your audience will sky-rocket.