6 Tips for Healthy Debate

By Sydney Carter ’13, Wellness Communications Assistant

“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” – Joseph Joubert

The pursuit of knowledge is an active, intentional process. Think of it as a mental expedition.

The road is a winding one with each turn encouraging a pause to challenge your assumptions. Questions will alter your path. Controversies and conflicting information will threaten to derail your progress, but ultimately lead towards a greater and more complete understanding.

Intellectual wellness requires you navigate this path without settling for packaged answers others will try to sell you. Practicing the art of debate will equip you with the critical thinking and persuasion skills you’ll need along your way.

Debate forces you to face obstacles and decide which course to take. It requires you to control your emotions, research information, consult multiple sources and flex your brain as you wrestle with questions and conflicting answers. When you debate you can never simply accept information; you have to pursue it.

Research studies suggest that there are multiple intellectual benefits for those who engage in constructive debate, such as: leadership skills, advanced critical thinking, enhanced communication skills and even improvements in reading and GPA.

When setting out your next intellectual expedition, here are 6 tips you’ll want to pack for the journey.

  1. Do your homework. When you are well-informed on a topic you will have more to say. If you can cite specific sources then your argument will have more authority and be more persuasive.
  2. Follow in Socrates’s footsteps. Try the Socratic Method when in the heat of debate. Ask questions to make your point instead of making simple statements.
  3. Stay calm. Carry on with your argument regardless of any offensive or infuriating statements made by your fellow debater. Anything insensitive or ignorant only weakens his or her argument.
  4. Communicate clearly. Avoid ambiguous statements and elevated jargon. You want what you say to be understandable. Be prepared to rephrase or repeat yourself to achieve clarity.
  5. Stay open to new ideas. Enter into debate with an open mind. Never assume you have all the answers. You never know when others might have an interesting viewpoint that you never considered before.
  6. Be willing to admit defeat. Leave your pride behind and don’t go down with a sinking ship. Be willing to alter your course. Let go of the concept of “winning” a debate and accept the prize of a new insight no matter whose side it comes from.

Your time at Maryland is the perfect environment to sharpen your debate skills. After all, your journey throughout your higher education career is one leg of the lifelong journey towards intellectual wellness.

Perhaps you’ll follow this year’s election coverage and strike up a conversation with your roommate or floor mates about the leading candidates and popular political topics. Or, maybe you want to discuss the energy and controversies behind the latest social justice movement such as KONY 2012.

You might even consider joining the Debate Club student organization here on campus and take your debate skills to the next level by preparing for inter-collegiate competition.

Share with us! 

What topics currently have your intellectual gears turning? Do you have any debate tips of your own? How about a memorable discussion you took part in? What did you learn?

Tell us in the comments below.

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