Even debaters say the darnest things

"Perpetrators of crime should not be allowed to circumcise justice".

We all start somewhere, especially debaters. It takes hard work to overcome exposed weaknesses, but the journey is worth it.

With the euphoria surrounding UiTM's amazing victory in the main category of the Cambridge Inter-varsity Debate recently, and my alma mater IIUM's victory in the English as 2nd Language category, I felt like it is a good time to reflect.

Oh, and the word you're probably looking for is 'circumvent'.

"Africa is a country. Located in the Egyptian continent".

Debating is about humility. We have all said something silly before (and poor 'Africa the country' is a favourite). Thanks Syed Saddiq for admitting to this one - you've certainly come a long way.

What's important is to have an open mind, accept that what we might be wrong sometimes and that there is always room to learn.

"It's easy to convince America. All the world leaders will get together and say 'please Mr Bush please listen to us' and then he will look into his heart and do the right thing".

There is a fine line between optimism, idealism and naïveté. The distinguishing factor being depth of knowledge, appreciation of history and conviction in belief.

Many debaters start out with great naivety. Slowly evolving into idealism. Eventually arriving at weighted optimism and pragmatism.

Sometimes, some are derailed by the burden of the world and realpolitik, only to be saved by love -- probably the only thing that defies logic. Oh, and the friends you make in debate last a life time.

"We cannot have paternal leave, because then all men would be on leave, and there'll be no one to drive buses"

We are all ruled by preconceived notions. We are born with, educated by and swear upon it. They are reinforced throughout our lives.

Frankly, there isn't anything wrong with having preconceived notions.

However, if we never question and never bother to ask "Why?", we may not only possibly harm others, but we are causing a disservice to the mind (aql') that God had given.

Debating is about dispelling preconceived notions. But the beauty of it all is that you may find truth behind such notions which will no longer be merely preconceived, rather, firm and justified convictions.

"Athletes should not be on heroine as it'll alter their performance and it'll be unfair to others"

Debate training made me feel 'stupid' sometimes. It was a good stupid. One that reminded me that there was so much to learn and so little that I knew of this world.

Debaters yearn gaining new knowledge. It's like leveling up in a game.

And indeed, heroin does give an unfair advantage, though unlikely in the form of a medal victory high.

"We need to provide weapons to the Syrians. They are armless"

Perspectives matter. In debates, it's about seeing things holistically. In life, it's the key to empathy.

Solutions aren't always obvious, but finding them requires arming oneself with as many views as possible. In order to lend a hand, we must know from where we receive and to whom we give.

''What's the point of the United Nation's getting involved in Gorilla Warfare?"

Listening and learning to listen is important. It enables us to sift through the multitude of information out there. The worst feeling as a debater is when an adjudicator doesn't listen to what we say. It makes some go bananas.

"We should not allow abortion because otherwise all the deceased babies will return and haunt their parents. This will cause a decrease in productivity and the economy will suffer"

Emotions matter. Human beings are emotional creations, with our hearts often overruling our heads. Sensitive issues must be handled with care and regard. Logic doesn't always win the battle of the hearts and minds.

"3rd world countries like Africa lack resources, that's why we need to give them aids"

My friend Aizuddin once said that even the best in the world would say the darnest things sometimes. In the heat of the moment we often say things we are not proud of. It doesn't make us bad people. Humans make mistakes, it's normal and those mistakes are funny, should be celebrated. No one can be expected to be right all the time.

Aizuddin still holds the Malaysian record for highest ranked team at the World Universities Debating Championship. In 2001, his team from IIUM ranked 7th in the world.

"Punishment must fit the magnificence of the crime"

Language. The fastest way to improve one's command in any language is by practicing it.

One of my trainers came from Bangladesh to this country barely speaking English but within 3 years made IIUM the 1st Malaysian team to become Asian champions way back in 1997.

His secret? Putting to use his English lessons during debate trainings and learning that what he actually meant was "magnitude" and not "magnificence".

There have been many like him, and many more produced through debating.

"Children are influential, that's why their parents must decide for them".

Patience. To those teaching debate, patience is probably the most important trait when moulding impressionable minds. Progress, after all, takes times.

My friend, Khadijah Shamsul, who now runs debate academy "Nous", says that her students enjoy debating because "not only can they practice their English freely, but they can express their ideas without fear of being scolded yet knowledge that they will learn from their mistakes, at their own pace".

"The United Nations is the biggest country in the world"

Passion. Debating isn't for everyone, but those who do take it up are driven by a passion for it. The passion isn't just for self-fulfillment but also the joy of seeing others succeed.

Khadijah told me she felt fulfilled with the belief that "a few years down the road, the opinions of my students will change policies, decision making or even influence a household".

I agree with her.

"Debaters will never marry debaters because they'll always argue!"

I humbly disagree. :)

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Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman

Danial Rahman has education close to his heart. He tweets at @danial_ari and welcomes feedback at danialrahman0330@gmail.com.


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