Being able to have an opinion about important subjects and defend that position is an incredibly important skill in life. Often, we come across such potentially heated debates during the course of a day, but the subjects are mainly to do with practical daily tasks rather than deeper philosophical issues. The solutions to such issues are usually non-obvious where many thinkers have been putting efforts in exploring them and providing insights.
This structured exercise provides an opportunity to practice debating on such topics in a controlled environment where the main focus is on the following:
- Practice presenting a viewpoint clearly, concisely and accurately
- Avoid exaggeration that can be used to derail a position by others
- Not getting emotional when others disagree and instead learning to see it from their point of view
- Have a conversation about a topic and learn something about it by listening to others
Given a subject, present your opinion, engage with others and defend your position without getting emotional
What You Need
- A series of cards. Write one of the following on each:
- A country gets the government it deserves
- Religion is the opium of the masses
- Money is the root of all evil
- Poverty is a state of mind
- Green politics are just the current fashion
- Embryonic stem cell research is unethical
- Marriage is effectively a business contract
- Capital punishment or death penalty is unjustifiable
- Animal cloning should be banned
- Global warming is a media hype
- Killer robots with a fully autonomous kill function should be banned
- Place the cards face down on a table where everyone can access.
- Ask a volunteer to pick a card and read it out.
- Ask the volunteer to explain whether he agrees with the statement or not and what he thinks of it.
- Allow 2 minutes of uninterrupted explanation by this volunteer.
- Ask other delegates to join in, agree or disagree with the original position of the volunteer and debate it.
- Monitor the debates and moderate them as necessary:
- Make sure the expression of a position doesn’t become too heated and emotional as to jeopardise relationships. If the discussion is approaching this, flag it and calm the participants.
- Make sure everyone participates. If someone has not participated or did not get a chance to put a word in, help the person to talk. Encourage the person to learn how to seize a moment when there is a pause so he can express his own opinion.
- Get the delegates to choose a position either way so they don’t remain indifferent.
- Continue the debate for about 8 minutes.
- Now, move on to another subject. Ask another volunteer to pick a new card, read it and as before express an opinion about it.
- Follow with a debate on this new topic.
- Continue until every delegate has picked a card.
- Follow with a discussion.
Explaining the Exercise: 5 minutes
Activity: (2 min expression + 8 min debate) * N topics = 80 minutes for 8 delegates
Group Feedback: 10 minutes
Do you feel that you have learned something today about the topics you debated on? Were the debates too heated and emotional or did you manage to have an informative discussion on these important topics? What do you think of other people’s positions? Did they surprise you? Did you surprise others? Do you feel defensive about your position? Why would that be the case if you truly believe in it? Did you feel comfortable in your position even when many others had a different position than you? If not, what does this suggest?