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The importance of debate for critical thinking

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Critical thinking is a key skill that should be taught to, and refreshed in, people of all ages. There is growing evidence that critical thinking improves your life on both a personal and societal level.

We have discussed inversion thinking but debate is another key skill that can help develop your critical thinking skillset[1].

Many of us hate “confrontation” and debate can be seen as a form of argument, so some avoid it altogether. It is natural human behaviour to avoid uncomfortable situations and confrontation, which can suppress debate but it’s also a powerful tool in testing our assumptions and practising critical thinking.

Debating is defined as an oral exchange, usually taking place between two opposing teams. Typically, these teams defend their position for or against a claim or motion.

Being able to support your position with authoritative sources and solid arguments, is a key pillar of debate, and critical thinking. Debate is an important medium for testing our beliefs and healthy debate helps you to challenge ideas, ensuring they are robust and still relevant.

“One of the most important things one can do in life is to brutally question every single thing you are taught” 

Bryant McGill, activist.

It is useful to consider the following questions when approaching a topic:

  • How do you test your own assumptions, knowledge, and learning?
  • Do you debate with friends, colleagues, or partners?
  • Do you actively seek out opposing views?

By taking these questions and answering them in turn, it ensures that you have covered each angle, considering your position carefully.

How to debate (healthily)

  • Take time to prepare – ensure that you are armed with sources and a range of supporting material to back up your position.
  • Remain open-minded – the idea is not to ‘win’ but rather look at a situation from two sides and review the supporting material.
  • Don’t get angry – it’s not an argument but a considered framework to discuss ideas.
  • Be intellectually curious – ask questions to challenge your assumptions.
  • Practice active listening – don’t just listen to be able to respond, really listen so you hear what your fellow debater is trying to say.

Being able to see different points of view and take on new information is another key critical thinking skill. Critical thinkers are not afraid to admit they were wrong, or to change their stance in light of new information.

Debating may seem uncomfortable at first, but it can help you test your ideas, so why not try it out today?

[1] Cinganotto, Letizia. “Debate for Critical Thinking and Communication.

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