By Russell Wardrop, Chief Executive, Kissing With Confidence Training

WORDS are our only weapons against tyranny, or at least a better line of defence than actual weapons. The cut and thrust of debate can be brutal but a debate about the rights and wrongs of trans women in female toilets is better held in a university hall than a club after midnight.

Debating, sometimes known as disputatious entertainment, means we must think about our beliefs, order them so others get it, deliver them to people who may disagree, then defend them in the face of criticism.

“This house believes that life begins at 40 weeks”;

“This house believes the electric chair is a good punishment for killers”;

“This house believes men are unnecessary in modern society.”

Three motions I debated a generation ago with JCI (Junior Chamber International). Hundreds would watch and, always, there would be a row of judges at the back, note-taking and scoring.

I was pro-life on the abortion motion and took an A4 Manilla envelope to the lectern. My conclusion would graphically show the result of a termination at 22 weeks, but the kicker was my envelope was empty as my words were enough to win the day.

The capital punishment debate proposed that killers should go to The Chair because it was effective, pleasingly spectacular, sometimes went badly wrong and was proven to be painful. My colleague Mel went through all the options, from injection (like going to the dentist) to stoning (we are not barbarians) in a tour de force that had everyone in stitches. Hanging was the aesthete’s choice.

For the relative uselessness of males in the modern world we suggested men would soon be replaced with two AA Duracell batteries, copper wire and a petri dish. When it was pointed out that men were still needed for the fun of procreation one of my colleagues opined it was more fun for everyone when two women procreated (cue much laughter) and while it was not her thing she was willing to give it a go (that brought the house down).

Times change and so they should, but in our enthusiasm to protect everybody from everything – from ever hearing anything they disagree with; experiencing any kind of physical or psychological discomfort; or from being hurt in any way – we are stifling debate and turning away from the only way we can keep the show on the road: the spoken word. Or at least, the one way that is better than any of the alternatives.

The irony is that you will find thousands of images online that depict all sorts: terminations, executions and women trying to procreate. But debates on these subjects, whether online or face to face, quickly degenerate into personal attacks, lacking critical thinking, reflection or perspective. The result is retrenchment and the most vicious abuse of the other side.

Ironically, back in the day, personal attacks were not allowed and whether you proposed or opposed was drawn out of a hat. I never got to argue on the side that accorded with my beliefs in any of the debates, but they all taught me something. Specifically, that some people have deeply-held pro life beliefs and are entitled to be heard; that there are ways to be cruel and barbaric when administering justice and we should cherish our democratic freedoms as not everywhere has them; that a generation ago the pendulum was tilted well in favour of the male of the species and a more equal society was long overdue.

So get out there and have some trenchant arguments or give me the alternative. In fact, let’s debate it.