Column Guido Camps: If you disagree, great!

At Wageningen, we prefer dialogues. Let's have more debates.

Before my return to the academic world to start my PhD research, I worked for a firm called Debate & Dialogue (not a very original name); I had taken part in a lot of debating competitions during my degree studies. Debating taught me a lot, for example to ruthlessly focus on the substance of the matter, but then chat cheerfully with my opponent afterwards. What is the difference between a debate and a dialogue?

Basically, in a dialogue you try to nurture understanding for one another’s standpoint and find some middle ground. In a debate, you are tougher on one another and you contrast your viewpoint with your opponent’s with the aim of persuading a third party — the audience or a jury.

At Wageningen, we prefer dialogues. We have the Let’s Explore sessions and the Wageningen Dialogues. For each strategic decision, we organize open dialogue sessions. If things get tense, our first response is ‘to start talking to one another’.

In a dialogue you look for middle ground, but the truth isn’t always in the middle

I think we could use some more debate in Wageningen. The ‘fallacy of the middle ground’, the incorrect assumption that the truth must always be somewhere in the middle, leads people to think dialogue will get them closer to the truth than debate. But sometimes you need to look for the extreme positions. Either you vote for the Nature Restoration Law or against it. Either you stop collaborating with Israeli universities or you don’t. There is no middle ground.

On several occasions in this column, I’ve invited someone to a debate with me (the invitation’s still open, @Roos Vonk and @Rutger Bregman), not so much to win a match as to test ideas. And have a friendly chat afterwards.

In a dialogue, you need to listen, in a debate you need to ruthlessly defend your position. You can only tell whether your position is solid with a debate. So my resolution for the coming academic year is to organize and participate in more debates. To kick off: I think the Netherlands should produce food for the rest of the world, we should not boycott Israeli universities, and all tenure track criteria should apply equally (looking at you, Social Sciences Group!). If you disagree, great! We’ll have a debate.

Guido Camps (40) is a vet and researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He enjoys baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.

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