UNITED STATES—Something that surprises people about me is the fact that I’m a debater. To be honest, I was even a member of the debate team in high school. When I think of debating, I always think of arguing; but what I have learned through my adult life is that it’s really about discussion. A lot of the time, a good debate is not about defeating your opponent, but carefully getting your point across to those who are listening.

With any debate, it’s meant to facilitate a discussion. That the key word is “discussion.” So many people go into a debate looking to argue or paint a terrible picture of their opponent. If I’m watching a debate, I’m looking for the facts of the matter only. How does this person feel about a particular issue? What is their stance on xyz? What can they do to alleviate an ongoing problem in my city, state or the country?

On August 6, the Republican candidates attended the first of debate of many on the road to the party nomination for the 2016 presidential race. I expect that audiences and viewers saw plenty of mudslinging as candidates did their best to throw other candidates under the bus. Do I suspect this is a major mistake? Absolutely. Instead of directly attacking opponents, the candidates should be looking to present a clear stance to the American public of who they are. Next, they should set out an agenda and indicate where they stand on certain issues.

The public wants to know why what you’re arguing suits them better than what another candidate is arguing. I recall vividly having a debate in middle school about dogs. My opponent argued that all dogs are not vicious; I argued that any dog is capable of attacking if they are provoked. Any guesses as to who won the debate? I did, because not only did I present my argument in a way that was clear and easy to understand, I also countered my opponent’s argument.

So many people forget this fundamental rule in the art of debating. You can’t just present your argument and expect the world to agree with you because you think you’re right. You have to be able to convince people that you are correct, and provide evidence countering your opponents’ claims. The one thing I hate in a debate is when people make things personal. Going after your opponent’s private life or their family is a major no-no in my opinion. What precisely are you proving by doing so? It shows that you have no respect for your opponent, and it shows the audience that you can be unpredictable.

The moderator is also very important in a debate. Many may not understand what a moderator does. Well, to put it simply, the moderator asks the debaters questions, and is expected to be neutral. A lot of the times, however, that neutrality can be questioned. When you watch a lot of the network political channels, you see a lot of debates. But they’re not really debates, because there’s not a real discussion. It’s more of a gang mentality approach, where the majority opinion is clearly meant to be seen as “right.” A viewer rarely gets the opportunity to hear a debate where both sides have equal representation, and that puts the viewer in a weird spot. It makes it hard for the viewer to form a balanced opinion about an issue, because the arguments for both sides sound are so convincing when they’re discussed on political channels.

As Americans, we debate on a daily basis. At home, at work, with family, with friends, with complete strangers—it’s a part of life. Understand that when you debate, the goal is to produce a convincing argument; it’s not to puff out your chest, personally attack your opponent or make claims that are beyond normalcy. Get the discussion going; that is what any good debate facilitates.