Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
Imagine you are given a side of a topic to debate in favour of. You have 15 minutes to come up with solid arguments for your side, and with your friend, devise two 7 minute speeches, that will put your case across as coherently as possible. You may have read books and watched documentaries on the subject, or you may know only a scintilla of information. All sorts of arguments may be flooding into your head; some of them brilliant, some of them incredibly silly. Your arguments change their usefulness based on when you’re speaking in the debate, as you may be opening the case for your side, or providing an interesting and thoughtful speech that extends the debate. The limited preparedness means that you are not just giving fully-formed speeches, but actively working in the debate, as it grows and moulds and shifts. That’s the fun, and the inherent challenge, of debating.
I recently attended the Oxford Inter-Varsity tournament, and participated in the first five rounds of debating. In the hallowed halls of the Oxford Union, we were treated to creating discussions on a world-tour of major issues: retaining or removing content on social media websites that the websites themselves deem insulting to religions, the nationalisation of South Africa’s mines, whether Western governments should purchase the freedom of the world’s slaves, whether the Greek military should suspend democratic elections until economic growth is resumed, and companies announcing public stances on gay rights issues.
Each of these topics was rather provocative, testing the boundaries of my knowledge and making me construct swift replies to my opponent’s arguments. I met some great people, whilst sparring with them in debates. Overall, it was a pleasant stay in Oxford, and I really enjoyed taking part in the tournament, which also happened to my first debating tournament.