(Pic credits to youthareawesome.com)
Debate serves as a catalyst to share knowledge in society. Without it, a society will atrophy and fail. The contest of ideas will continue as long as civilised society exist, and whenever debate is shut down, physical violence and threats will abound sooner or later. So let us take a moment and realise that debate is vital to create and maintain stability for a society.
There is indeed a line between constructive debate and destructive slander, with the latter at times rightfully shut down so that nothing can fester in the state body. Slander occurs whenever an individual said the horrendous things that are completely untrue and off base.
By shutting down slander, there is, however, the threat that constructive debate will stop. Whenever this confusion occurs, people will be less willing to share ideas and constructive feedback. When that moment occurs, then a society’s growth will decline over time by the lack of new ideas.
An active open debate, however, enables individuals to clash ideas in a constructive way with one another with the main objective in searching for the “truth”. No one holds a monopoly on wisdom (Lee Hsien Loong) or truth, not even the sage of society no matter how admired they may seem. Everyone is imperfect. Nonetheless, debate helps to open up the forces of change, as is to erode the factors that may cause a society to fall.
What may these be, you may say? They are corruption, hatred, racism, envy, discrimination, exploitation, religious prosecution, and violence. And whenever a society shuts down debate, it is as if one shuts down the sunlight. What grows and fester in the gardens of society will be the algae of these base qualities. But whenever debate is present, it is as if the garden is exposed to the total rays of the sunlight.
There can be no escape for people to debate ideas on how society should be run. To put down other people especially when he or she is presenting hard facts and suggestions may win people cookie-points in the short-term. However, the society without its honest intellectuals presenting the truths or at least having the opportunity to clash ideas against prevailing truths may, in turn, transform itself into something negative and self-destructive.
In the book One Thousand One Nights, there is also a saying, “If a society becomes less honest, more people will resort to cunning”.
When cunning dominates society instead of plain honest talk, then there is no surprise why society sinks into corruption. Those who practise them win at the expense of the general development of society. And whatever fruits they consume are at the cost of posterity. When posterity comes of age, then there is no surprise why there is little rezeki.
Truth has to be held up high as a banner to look up with pride. For a nation that grasps truth shall move towards enlightenment. How can the truth be secured? Through debate. Firstly among ourselves, among our family, among our villagers, among our mukims, among our districts, and finally among our national leaders. Truths must be presented as is, not what it may seem to be.
Others may hide behind the truth-tellers of society. These people hide not because they are good at the “political game”, but rather they are fearful of what would happen to themselves. Thus, no one is more selfless and honourable than the man or woman who presents his or her ideas openly for the world to judge.
A dangerous person that exist in every society is the person who would do his or her best to shut down debate. Much like the motives of those who hide behind the shadows, these people are fearful that honest people will cast the light onto the darkness. And it is in this darkness they exploit their position at the expense of society and posterity.
My message is this. To any young person who wants to shape society, never be afraid to embrace debate. Open up the conversation. It has been ages since Bruneians truly talked and open themselves to another on the issues we are facing today. I hope that by the time we are self-confident and mature enough to organise constructive debates, instead of childish slander, it would not be too late. So let us embrace and cherish debate with the means of finding the truth so we can be assured that society will move towards a better path for all.