One upon a time there was an activity through which intellectuals would attempt to expand their minds. They would gather together and bring with them their independent thoughts. Many times these thoughts could not logically coincide with the ideas of the other parties present. These great thinkers would try to show the reasoning behind their ideas in an attempt to educate those around them in what they believed was true. Those who believed in a different truth would consider the ideas of the opposition and gauge whether the arguments had validity. If they believed otherwise, they would present their own opinions. Thus, the art of debate was created.
Debate was supposed to be a forum through which intellectuals could expand their minds by considering the ideas of others. Today we have brought a new level of arrogance to what was once a noble activity. We have warped the idea of debating into an exercise that limits rather than expands the mind. It is in the competitive nature of the modern-day world that debate has been diminished to a game rather than an activity reserved for those who are humble enough to accept the possibility that they may be wrong.
It’s interesting to consider how this change happened. From the time we are old enough to enter school, our parents are pushing for us to be in the best education possible, paying thousands upon thousands of dollars hoping that the coloring books at the preppy day care will be more educational than those at the normal day care. Praying that, thanks to the preppy preschool, we’ll one day run a Fortune 500 Company.
“South Park” creator Matt Stone addresses this issue in his interview in Michael Moore’s “Bowling For Columbine.” In a sarcastic but disturbingly true manner, Stone explains a phenomenon elementary students face today. He says, “I remember being in sixth grade, and I had to take the test to get into honors math in seventh grade, and they were like, ‘Don’t screw this up, because if you screw this up you won’t get into honors math in seventh grade, and of course if you don’t get into honors math in seventh grade you won’t get into honors math in eighth grade, and then not ninth grade and not 10th grade or 11th grade, and then you’ll just die poor and lonely.'” This competitive nature is counterproductive, making us all feel inadequate if we’re not proving ourselves to be better than those around us when in all reality we could probably progress more as people by giving others’ opinions a chance.
Since the time we’re little children, we’re reminded that we need to prove ourselves to be the superiors of our peers. It should be no wonder, then, that rather than accepting debate as an opportunity for enlightenment, we now use it as a forum for boosting egos. The age of humility has passed us and we are left with the sad reality that to be worthy of notice we must prove others to be inferior. This thought process does nothing but limit our potentials by basically stating that those who are not of a common ideology are inferior and wrong rather than equal, with an opinion that deserves to be heard.
The great philosophers who used to argue back and forth in attempts to learn new truths are now gone; having been replaced by politicians and lawyers who listen to their opposition’s arguments only in search of weaknesses. If we would only stop and listen without rushing to condemnation, we could very well see ways for our society to evolve through cooperation rather than competition.
It has long been believed that to err is human; taking this saying to heart, we should remember that no matter how confident we may be of something, there is always a chance we may be wrong. There is always a chance that someone may be able to teach us something. To deny this in a move to elevate egos is to accept an attitude that will limit our potential to the ideas we can come up with ourselves. To dismiss the ideas of others in such an arrogant mistake is to murder the art of debate and to accept the end of an age when differing opinions can coincide and interlace to bring about ideas better than those possible independently.
-The writer, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.