A Personal Narrative About Reasoned Debate

Our class discussions on both Benhabib and Schmitt got me thinking about a personal experience I had in high school regarding trying to make a decision as a group through “reasoned debate”. My sophomore year of high school, I was part of an organization called, Youth Leadership Lincoln (YLL for short). The organization was designed so that you spend the majority of the year learning about how to be community leaders, and at the end of the course, all members of the program work together to design and then carry out a community service project. Through reasoned debate, we were assigned to both create the project, and assign tasks to certain members, and coordinate it terhrough various aspects of the community as required by the project.

To begin the process of developing a community service project, we first brainstormed possible abstract ideas about what the project would be about. From the beginning, I was determined that acquiring a plot of land in inner-city Lincoln and starting a community garden program was the best possible project for our class of YLL. In most of the years prior to our class, people usually decided just to help out at an elementary school fun-night or school fair. This option was usually the easiest logistically as well as the simplest project to pull off. However, I was determined to make our project more meaningful and have more of a lasting impact on the greater community of Lincoln, Nebraska. I assembled enough information and data to generate a relatively thorough presentation to the group for when it was my turn to present my idea for the service project. I described how we might get donors to help us by a plot of land, how we might work with a local chef to give out free classes to the community to explain how to cook the vegetables and store the produce from the community garden. I also laid out a few plans for how we could integrate the garden into the curriculum for before and after school programs for the reduced-income families in the area. To me, it seemed my idea was relatively thorough and at least warranted serious consideration by my peers. However as soon as I finished presenting my case and opened it up to my peers for their opinions, I was almost immediately shut down. People said my plan was too far-fetched, and impossible for us to execute.

This is when Schmitt comes into play, instead of having a logical discussion about how we might make my plan more feasible, or how we could improve upon it, we fell into a huge illogical debate about our service project. We soon began arguing about each other’s presentation methods, and even what high schools we were all coming from. Schmitt would have been smirking at all of this “debating and reasoning”. When the plan was thrown onto the discussion table, instead of discussing the idea, we attacked each other, and I was not innocent either. I found myself attacking people for not listening to my idea. In fact, this whole process, looking back on it, makes me loose a lot of faith in Benhabib’s deliberative democracy. It makes me wonder whether or not her outline of the deliberative process it truly an effective solution.

After reading this, do you have any personal experiences with deliberation in a group of people that have resulted in either or positive or negative outcome? From your own personal experience, do you think Schmitt or Benhabib is more accurate in their view of deliberation?

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