A More Convivial Forum

By , May 8, 2015 10:41 AM

Dear Colleagues,

The recent heartfelt contributions by doctors Delivani, Halandaris, Michopoulos, Raftopoulos, Lymberis among many others, plus my bilateral debate with Anastassios Retzios convince me of one thing. The Forum has to become much more convivial and intellectual because, in its presence form there is a lot of ‘noise’ generated which impedes the information flow.

Quite often, people think they disagree when, in fact, they agree. Conversely, in some cases, members think they agree when in reality, they disagree.

There is noting wrong with disagreement. In fact, it is much more interesting than full agreement which leaves no room for subtlety and nuance.  But when the disagreement is convivial it is enriching while when it is hostile and ad hominem it becomes trivial.  This is why many members consider leaving the forum or contribute very rarely to its discussions.

How can we become more convivial ?

Based on my experience in diplomacy and on the methodologies developed of my group The New School of Athens, an international ‘think and do’ tank, devoted to finding solutions through consensus,  I would recommend the following:

  1. Separate an idea or thesis from its author for the purpose of a better debate. By putting a theory, an explanation, a proposed strategy on the table and giving it an appropriate name, not connected with its author, we allow that same theory to compete with opposing ones in the intellectual sphere. Let the best win. If, on the contrary the original idea is inextricably tied to its author, he/she will defend it to the hilt against all odds.  The mark of a good debate is the willingness of the participants to change their minds if convinced of the contrary. If there is no prior undertaking to change one’s mind, if necessary, the whole enterprise becomes futile and boring.
  2. Avoid encyclopedic posturing. Some members of the Forum seem to claim encyclopedic knowledge on practically everything. They then invoke the ‘argument of authority’ try and pull rank on the others and present their views as the evidence of eternal truths. Then, with a generous use of superlatives they attempt to disable the opponent’s positions. Ironically, the argument of authority is often invoked by debaters who have no particular claim to fame in the field they are discussing other than being well read in that area. I would suggest, a more humble, subtle and flexible approach coupled with a recognition than none of us have been blessed with papal infallibility.
  3. Make sure we are asking the right questions in the right order. A greater attention to questions is, I believe crucial. Socrates used to say that there can be no such thing as a good answer to a bad question. If the question is meaningless the answer cannot be meaningful. Not only should the right questions be asked but in the right order. This is essential. This is what the French aptly call a problématique which is basically a relevance tree of questions and sub-questions, in the right order. For instance in the drachma vs euro debate, a relevant question, often not asked, is : what are the long-term scenarios of a permanent exit form the euro, i.e in 2030 not in 2016 ? What assumptions do we make, not just about Greece, but on the continued survival of the Eurozone and the European Union itself. To frame the debate in just short-run Greek terms may be insufficient and lead to wrong conclusions.
    Many of the issues discussed in the Forum are very important for Greece.  The Greece-Europe debate is one such debate. Although I am a confirmed Euro-Optimist, I understand and appreciate the good arguments by the Euro-Pessimistic and Euro-Phobic schools of thought.  There is room for debate on both sides. There are even  conditions which would transform me from Pro-Europe to  Anti-Europe. I am open to that possibility. But I have yet to see them.

I vote for a more convivial forum : one where the collective brainpower of its members can be put to productive and creative use. Let’s ditch the invective, the personal attacks and the assumption of infallibility.

Best Regards
Kimon Valaskakis
Ambassador of Canada RET
President New School of Athens
Professeur Honoraire Université de Montréal

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