How to fix the debates

Advice from my barber, Priya Parker

Not believing in a disease turns out not to inoculate you against it. So here we are. Happy Friday!

I have nothing of my own for you today. But I wanted to share, without her knowing I am going to, an excellent newsletter post from Priya Parker, who, in addition to being my quarantine barber, is my wife. I tax-deduct her fees.

For those of you who don’t know her, Priya is a master of facilitation and conflict resolution and the author of a book called “The Art of Gathering,” and so when Tuesday night’s debate happened, SHE HAD THOUGHTS. Now, given the coronapatient-in-chief, who knows if there will be more debates? But if there are, this year or in the future, they will need to be remade. Priya has a plan for that.

When I read through her newsletter this morning, I thought you might enjoy it. So below is an excerpt, and subscribe to her newsletter for more gathering wisdom.


How to moderate a sh$!tshow.

By Priya Parker

On Tuesday night, the country watched on in horror as the President of the United States lied, interrupted, abused, and disrupted his way through the first of three planned Presidential Debates. As the Twittersphere blew up, a comment by @WilliamCharnock about President Trump caught my eye: “He executed the rehearsed strategy from the first minute. Upend and discredit the process. Refusing to play by the rules allows him to define the new rules he intends to play by.”

Chris Wallace, as the sole moderator of the first presidential debate, in not standing up to Donald Trump, in not pausing the proceedings entirely, in chuckling along with the President, in saying things like “Mr. President, you’re going to be very happy because we’re now going to talk about law and order” and “but why should I be different than the two of you?”, abdicated his role as the enforcer-in-chief. Wallace failed both the people and the process.

A moderator is not first-and-foremost a peace-maker, a moderator is a justice-enforcer. And when a participant with power in a gathering wants to hijack the gathering, the “moderator as peacemaker” mindset benefits the powerful. And that is because a desire for “peace” (read: keeping things steady) typically benefits the status quo, and the status quo usually benefits the powerful. Trump benefited from Wallace’s attempts to make peace (read: be civil and “appropriate”). By not pausing and interrupting the situation altogether, Wallace inadvertently became an accomplice to allowing for a different set of rules.

So first, how could Chris Wallace have used his power as a moderator differently? 

I mean, who among us has never lost control of a room? Not me, certainly. Which is why it’s even more important for us to practice specific ways of navigating chaos and abuse within a gathering. (And in this case, the stakes couldn’t be higher.)

Wallace’s big mistake was thinking that he needed to interrupt the men when, in fact, he needed to interrupt the gathering. Here are some ways to do that:

To read those six ways and the rest of the post, click here.

And subscribe to “The Art of Gathering” newsletter here.