the Issues [MCKK Magazine 1997]
were some great debaters during my time at Malay College. Although
Sdr. Anwar Ibrahim, Sdr. Sanusi Junid and Sdr. Hishamuddin Rais had
left by the time I got there, I grew up crossing intellectual swords
with the likes of Sdr. Kamaruddin Jaafar, Sdr. Anuar Othman and Sdr.
Sallehuddin Hashim. All of them as eloquent in Malay as in English,
they all ranked among the best debaters the College ever produced.
They also went to become extremely successful men. Do you think there
may be a connection? I believe there is. To be a
successful debater, the most important thing is to see the side of
any story. To be able to do this is to have command of the issue.
With such command, it doesn’t matter which side you are on in the
debate itself. Proposition or Opposition, it doesn’t matter. Debates
are almost invariably won by the side that demonstrates greater command
of the issue. Their arguments carry the more convincing weight.
President Bill Clinton was a successful debater during his schooldays.
It is said that he once argued one side of the question and won, then
argued the opposing side and won. This is not that big a deal. I did
it myself one, against the Royal Military College during our trip
there for our annual games. Because of bad scheduling, the debate
had to be cancelled at the last minute. The frustrated teams from
both schools got together in a dorm to blow off steam. The topic isn’t
relevant now. What mattered was that after nearly an hour of passionate
discussion, they admitted that we had the better argument and accepted
that we would have won the debate.
then we pointed out the flaw in our argument. We had recognised our
own weakness, and structured a whole position to conceal it. If they
had seen it, they would have blown us away and won. But they didn’t
see it. We had a better command of the issue and therefore we won
both sides of the debate. It would have been good to have proven it
in the battle onstage in front of our schoolmates, we were happy enough
to have beaten them at tennis. (One of Sdr. Kamaruddin Abu Bakar’s
have never doubted that I owe my own career as a writer and journalist
to what I learned as a debater for Mohd Shah and Malay College. I
learned very early in life how interesting it is to examine any idea
from opposing viewpoints, tackle any questions from many angles, fill
in any spaces of any doubt. It led to a generalist approach to education;
the idea that the object of leaning is to understand as much as possible,
as much as possible.
became that you might call an ‘information junkie’; the sort of person
you have to play at Trivial Pursuit. It was fun to know things. But
over the years, all the little bits of accumulated data began to arrange
themselves into a world-view that has helped me to navigate through
life in an interesting and rewarding way. I learned to put myself
in other people’s skin, so to speak. I learned that you can never
know enough, and that everyone you meet can teach you a part of what
you need to know. And I learned to be cautious in exercising judgement;
before you can hope to suggest to answers, you must first learn to
ask the right questions.
so did all those Old Boys named above. They would probably argue with
a lot of what I’ve just said, but that’s just the way debaters are.
We argue for the sheer fun of it, knowing the truth that has nothing
to do with what the debate judges decide. Truth emerges from the contention
of ideas. The more ideas contend, the more refined the truths that
emerge. And nothing we’ve ever won or lost can match those we’ve played
out in the privacy of our own minds.
are many paths in life. There are many definitions if success. My
Malay College contemporaries have all taken different roads to our
respective destinies. Some are artists; others, academics. All are
thinkers. But in our every different ways, we’re all part of the development
and evolution of this country and our people. We’ll always have much
to debate about, and we’ll probably always be proud of our differences,
as we are of the Malay College heritage we all share.
one thing, I’m sure we’d all agree. I f you want to achieve anything
in life, it helps to be in command of the issues. The rest is show