JOHN GRIFF COLUMN: Are we losing the crucial art of debate?

'Are we unwittingly contributing to a decline in the mental wellbeing of the entire nation?', asks radio presenter, John Griff.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 2:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 2:02 pm
Open and honest debate is also about listening, understanding, being flexible and willing to learn

When I was at school, there was a considerable amount of time put into the development of public speaking and of debate.

It continued until long

after I left school and was still going strong during my time as a governor of the Girls’ High School in Hardingstone.

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Plenty of high profile competitions were fought, lost and won over a phrase which began ‘This house believes that…’ and it proved to be an excellent way to bring young people out of themselves because the competitions were always contested by teams instead of sole individuals.

Although I did take part in some of those competitions in my time, it was never as the lead speaker; my role was always to be that of a team member.

Nevertheless, my own education did encourage me not only to develop my views on a given subject, but to articulate them too.

Spin forward an intervening 40 years and you’ll find me helping others to articulate their views, either on the air, or perhaps through some of the skills training that I’m professionally called on to deliver away from the studio.

But where do those views come from and how encouraged are we to have a view on any given subject in this day and age?

We’re told that we’re entitled to have our own views and that they’re as valid as anyone else’s.

But all too often, if we come forward and set out those views – those opinions – there’s a multiplicity of people, often on one of the social media platforms, looking to simply shoot us down, screaming that we’re unqualified, uninformed, or just too stupid to hold the views that we do.

Put simply, ours is becoming a culture where whoever shouts loudest holds the trump card. That’s plain wrong because it silences any debate from which we could all learn.

Debate doesn’t have to be carried out on a social battleground; the ground rules are simple enough.

I make my point, you make yours and then we discuss the merits, or otherwise, of each viewpoint in an attempt to reach an accord.

There doesn’t have to be a winner or a loser if both parties are truly trying to find win-win harmony.

Back in the days of my school exams it was always understood that O-levels taught you to learn facts and that A-levels taught you to argue your case.

Public speaking competitions went one step further: instead of arguing your case on paper, you did so verbally and in the moment.

That’s not easy. Beyond having the initial opinion, the skillset required to be able to participate is wide ranging.

In the first place, of course, having an opinion is simply a starting point.

How many of us are ever asked what we actually think about something? How often are we simply told how we should think?

When did you last sit and consciously consider your own response to a particular topic and then put forward your opinion about it?

I’m not talking about a family argument which dissolves into a huge shouting match, but instead something more substantial perhaps.

Debating topics has the effect of shaping our views, considering and being receptive to opposing views and possibly taking an interest in the wider world.

Surely that can only be a good thing.

It’s my opinion that debate is beneficial to our understanding of the world and a stimulus for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Shouldn’t we be doing more of it?