Sunday, 3 February 2013

Lets address Debate!

"Men are never so likely to settle a question rightly as when they discuss it freely."
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

From its very beginning, debate has been inextricably intertwined with the concept of open society. In ancient Athens, citizens gathered in forums to discuss and debate the most pressing issues of the day before casting their votes. Such debates were an integral part of the new form of government Athens was to bequeath to the world: democracy.
Unlike totalitarian and other undemocratic regimes, where a limited set of ideas are imposed as absolute truths, democratic societies depend upon the free and open exchange of ideas. Indeed, it may be said that true democracy cannot exist without debate. For democracy to function, the values that debate encourages - reason, tolerance, the careful weighing of evidence, etc. - must be cherished and nurtured. But even within societies that restrict open discussion, debate can teach young people that no one person or government possesses the ultimate truth.

Just as Socrates spurred his listeners to examine their assumptions 2,500 years ago, such debating forums and events today encourage students everywhere to question, to listen to each other and to explore even the most volatile subjects openly and in the spirit of tolerance and cooperation.

"I may be wrong and you may be right and, by an effort, we may get nearer the truth."
Karl Popper

Debate is a formal contest of argumentation between two teams or individuals. More broadly, and more importantly, debate is an essential tool for developing and maintaining democracy and open societies. More than a mere verbal or performance skill, debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination. Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.

"Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress."
Mahatma Gandhi

The process of debate offers profound and lasting benefits for individuals, for societies and for the global community as a whole. The individual skills learned through debate have a broader impact on society as well. Debate can help fledgling democracies heal from the wounds inflicted by oppressive dictatorships and ethnic violence by providing a forum where these volatile issues can be openly discussed. Newly enfranchised citizens engaged in such debates learn first-hand how democracy works. Additionally, because it teaches the principles of tolerance, nonviolence and respect for different points of view, debate can close the gap between minority and majority cultures, and other groups divided by long-standing animosities.

 As a process that both embodies and encourages peaceful discussion rather than aggressive confrontation, debate offers the world a tool that could not be more timely or more necessary.

“The clash of ideas is not weakness. Truth reaches its place when tussling with error.”

“Man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless."

And hence, each one of us is a debater, whether we know it or not. From the time we wake up, to the time we go to sleep, we are constantly debating. So never back down from a verbal Duel again.

1. The microphones… quiet. Event starts, Frantic footsteps numerous.
2. The sweat down the participants necks as they stare down at crumpled pieces of paper
3. The Buzzing sound all over.
4. The Dry Humor and Good Graces.
5. The Opening Sequence.
6. The Ping Pong Game Intensifies and Tensions Rise: Lips moving swiftly, faster than a bees wings, “Its darkest before the dawn”, they say, and metaphoric dawn comes to be true when participants express their difference through their tone, their body language, and of course their actual arguments.
7. The interruption by the regulator.
8. And towards the end you realize how the room was filled with mature, may be too mature and intelligent voices of the speakers- their excitement, their powers, all their built up pressure, research and consultations let out in one blast, all amidst the screeching microphones..

In a media landscape hijacked by cable news personalities, internet trolls, and radio blowhards and an education system hijacked by standardized testing uniform curriculum, platforms and events for debating are more than reassuring.

They’re—dare I say it—enlightening.

- Iqra Meraj
B.A.LLB 1st yr
Jamia Millia Islamia

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