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The utility and importance of debate || Delhi University (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
5 min
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Questioner: Sir, in our age, we see that children and parents have differing thoughts, and these contrary thoughts often lead to unwanted debates and chaos in the family. So, how can both the parents and the children come to peace, agree with each other, and minimize the hurt?

Acharya Prashant: No, you don’t need to agree to something or someone, nor is it important for somebody else to agree with you. Debate is essentially something very good. It is just that when you discuss or debate or argue, the motive should be truth; you must be aiming to gain clarity. The motive should not be self-preservation or domination.

Even at this moment, what you are having here is a process of discussion. I understand that the entire proceeding is dominated by one person: this speaker here who is doing eighty to ninety percent of the talking. But still, the interaction is two-way and the intention, I assure you, is not at all to foist my views on you.

Even in my early days I used to talk a lot, discuss a lot, and the intention was to know. If kids and parents are discussing and debating, I take that as auspicious. We do not want an environment where both sides stick to their own guns and are not prepared to talk to each other because discussions lead to rancour; or a situation in which the parents or teachers act as authorities and kids are not supposed to talk back to them. No, that kind of a thing is essentially unhealthy.

Parents should not only be open to having their kids argue against them but actually encourage argument. The only thing and the central thing is: neither the parent nor the kid should be arguing from a position of vengeance or ill-feeling or self-preservation or domination, which is often the case. It is not the debate that is the problem. It is the intention of the debate that is the problem.

Great books have emerged from great debates. If you look at the Upanishads, the very method used there is of discussion: the teacher and the student are talking to each other. And often in the Upanishads, you find very argumentative students. They are not prepared to settle for anything less than the Truth.

In fact, the Upanishads are very honest. They do not shy away from revealing that the teacher sometimes would get angry and tell the student, “Now you are asking just too much. This is beyond your brief.” But the student would keep asking and ultimately the teacher would give in and smile, and in fact pat the student on his back.

For example, you look at the dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa, or the dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife—be it Nachiketa or Gargi or Maitreyi and many other obstinate and stubborn inquirers and debaters, the result has always been auspicious. The result has been an Upanishad.

Do not shy away from tense moments. Being human, I fully understand that when you find an argument coming against you, it does lead to some kind of stiffness and there is a bit of a tension, but one should be open to it. That tension is far preferable to a docile kind of ignorant silence that we often find in families, especially Indian families. Power is meant to be exercised to reach the truth, not to conceal the truth.

Let kids say what they have to say, but kids must also be prepared to listen. Let parents teach what they want to teach, but parents must also be prepared to learn. So, both the sides must have this position, and the ego must know that nobody knows it all, be it the parents or the kids. And that there is great joy in learning. Learning itself is joy.

So, whenever an opportunity to learn presents itself, one should grab it with both hands. Even if it means that one has to learn from someone twenty years as junior—why not? One should learn. And given the joy it brings, one should say, “Thanks, I am grateful you presented this opportunity to me.” Irrespective of where knowledge and realization come from, they are welcome, and no harm if that realization comes from one’s own kids.

So, do debate and discuss, and be a very sharp enquirer. In fact, I would say, be a ruthless enquirer. Even if a little bit of doubt is there, do not suppress it; keep asking. Either the doubt would be removed or it would become clear that there is a lot of exploration still to be done.

Remember who we are. We are people in bondage. We are born in ignorance. And therefore, you must continuously strive for light. Debate is a way to come to know of one’s areas of ignorance, one’s bondages. Once you come to know of them, there is a possibility of going beyond them.

YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/c33r_MJQ6RA

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