Alternative Opinion… BY AGBA JALINGO

In Breaking News, Opinion

Art is better than science.

Science is better than art.

Democracy is better than military government.

Military government is better than democracy.

Christianity is better than Islam.

Islam is better than Christianity.

A male child is better than a female child.

A female child is better than a male child.

Polygamy is better than monogamy.

Monogamy is better than polygamy.

These and several others constitute familiar debate topics that debaters had to grapple with in school many years ago. I was one of them. A very regular. You dare not put me on the bench.

After all the salutations to our teachers, the respected audience, dear parents, impartial judges, honorable timekeepers, and co-debaters, we share ten minutes to throw the fireworks. Sometimes, we are given more time. We never liked the honorable timekeeper. Because his bell will always catch you with words remaining in your breath.

The first side will marshall their arguments, while the opponents listen keenly and take notes. The opponents then take the stage and also state their initial arguments while we also listen keenly and take notes. We all end by hoping that the points we gave did not confuse but convince you, to believe that what we said was better than what our opponent will say or said.

Then there is the responsorial session. We now both return for a shorter period to dismantle the points that our opponent gave. There must be no foul language. It attracts disqualification. Satire is permitted but it doesn’t score you points. Remember there was no Google to search for any help. No Wikipedia. Preparation for these debates was done in the library with hard-copy books.

In many of the competitions that I represented at my school, I saw Muslim children arguing that Christianity is better than Islam. I saw Christian children arguing that Islam is better than Christianity. I saw children of soldiers under military rule arguing that democracy is better than military rule. I also saw children of pro-democracy activists arguing that military government is better than democracy.

I also met children from polygamous homes who arguedthat monogamy is better than polygamy and children from monogamous homes who argued that polygamy is better than monogamy. I also saw girls arguing that a boy child is better than a girl child and boys who argued that a girl child is better than a boy child. There were also science students who argued that art is better than science and arts students who argued that science is better than arts.

What this did for us is that; it trained our brain cells very early enough on how to deal with alternative opinions. Our brain cells received strenuous training on how to digest and deal with both what you agree with, and what you do not agree with. You grow up knowing that alternative opinion is not hatred. It’s team play. Without it, there can be no game ever in life. To filter it properly, you also grow up knowing the difference between alternative opinion and when someone is wasting your time because, during debates, there is no time to waste. If there is no substance inside, your opponent just wants to waste your time. Be wise! If it is abusive, disqualify the opponent.

What it did not do for us is that it did not teach us convergence. It did not leave us with the third leg. We were either going to win or lose. It did not teach us that life is not always ‘This or That’. That in almost all cases in life, there is something in between the two extremes. It pitched us against ourselves and kept us on the defensive in a desire to win or lose.

Having mastered the art of holding our ground with decorum, the next goal should be how to locate the convergence. At what point do what you hold to be true and what I hold to be true, and what others hold to be true, converge? Is there any thin line that connects not just our geography, but also our cultures, diets, our beliefs, our systems, our humanity, our aspirations, our subtle desires, our ideas, and even our vices?

Or let me reframe the ponder, at what point can we humble ourselves and accept that what we know is not truer than what others know, but only a part of the whole?

Yours sincerely,

Citizen Agba Jalingo is the Publisher of CrossRiverWatch and a rights activist, a Cross Riverian, and writes from Lagos.

NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Agba Jalingo, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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