The admonition of my first Professor is one that I will carry to my grave: Femi, a university is where you come to unlearn everything that you have learned. Forget all you have seen, been taught, told, or read. You must develop an open and inquisitive mind. You must learn to critically appraise all information you receive, solely on their merits. Most importantly, for you to succeed in life as a student or as a professional, you must learn how to develop the necessary psychological distance whenever you engage in arguments or counter-arguments. Always keep your emotions in check whenever you are engaged in a debate. Integrity is everything. “I don’t know” is a valid answer.
It was later on that l came to read the statement that is generally credited to Buddha about not believing anything unless it accords with your own reasoning. And I left university before I read Fitzgerald’s dictum: The ability to hold and defend two contrary opinions is the hallmark of a genius.
Among the reasons I enjoy listening to the BBC is the quality of the debates in their discussion programmes.
Example: Two weeks ago, a former Chairman of the Conservative Party in the UK was the Guest on HardTalk. The discussion was on Brexit.
Although the man’s position was diametrically opposed to my own view, his delivery was smooth, and his logic so impeccable that I found myself rooting for him. He made eminent sense, even though I totally disagreed with his ideological standpoint.
That, I believe, is the way it should be.
We can contrast this with what goes for “discussions” on our local airwaves, where, it appears, people are not out to engage us with their command of the relevant points, but to entertain us with their ability to outdo each other in guttersnipish mudslinging.
Let Mark Twain help to raise the curtain: “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
Femi Akomolafe, August 2019