Debating for Peace

By Ibrahim Rashid

Middle School students debating the immorality of homework.
Photo Credits: Ibrahim Rashid

Many of us fall prey to the belief that real and lasting change comes like a sprint; single and fast. But in reality, the journey to a better world is more like a relay race where we have to painstakingly try, fail, and succeed numerous times with the help of others to reach the finish line.

My journey towards that better world begins at the start of each week whenever I take the train down to the Patrick Lyndon School to teach a group of middle school students speech, debate, and argumentation with Debate Mate USA, a non-profit dedicated to promoting debate amongst the youth of the Greater Boston area.

To develop a debate mindset amongst the students, we play a game called "If I Ruled the World," which asks them to evaluate the state of the world and suggest something that they would change.

The first time we played this game I stood up and said, "If I ruled the world, I would ban all homework." When it was my sixth graders' turn, their answers absolutely astounded me:

"If I ruled the world, I would make sure that everyone had enough money to support their family."

"If I ruled the world, I would make sure that immigrants were treated the same as Americans."

"If I ruled the world, I would make sure that everyone had access to a good education."

Anyone who has worked with children knows that their favorite word is "why?" Why is there injustice? Why is there suffering? Why are we indifferent to suffering? And how do we fight injustice? My students touch upon these core questions of human existence every time they debate.

A just world is a world where the Sustainable Development Goals have been implemented.

Goal 16 calls for the promotion of a just, peaceful, and inclusive society where the rule of law is protected and justice is guaranteed for all, irrespective of gender, nationality, or faith.

The path to justice, and the implementation of this goal, lies within the footsteps of today's youth who engage in debate. "If I Ruled the World" pits the kids against one another to answer the tough questions of poverty, morality, and war. After one person states what they would change and how, the next is called upon to refute and improve upon their argument.

Many of us are indifferent to suffering and systemic injustice because it appears to be much bigger than we are; that we feel insignificant and powerless to stand up against the big guy. However, through this game and debate, I see a passion for change being cultivated in my students as they gain the confidence to speak, fight, and disarm a wrong.

Debate teaches a child that so long as you have an argument that you can defend, you have every right, and even an obligation, to stand up for what you believe in. That regardless of your age and size, you can tackle these issues and strive for a better world. If a child believes that they can take on the world, they'll run the extra mile.

Three months into the program, I've seen my students run the full marathon where they have struggled, argued, and overcome each hurdle thrown at them as a team. Their journey makes me believe that one day, these young debaters will change the world.

The youth are especially adept at carrying the baton towards a better world which is why they must be involved in the peacebuilding process. They are not grounded by conventions or dogma and they question everything around them.

This is important because it is their values and ideas that will determine how future generations respond to the moral dilemmas of our age.

Debate encourages the next generation to answer the questions that we were never able to do. Debate asks them if they will be deaf to a plea for peace? Or will they passionately stand for a better world? Will they reject pluralism and equality? Or accept diversity and inclusiveness? Will they be passive to the injustices perpetuating around them? Or will they actively fight for the cause of justice?

An adult who is indifferent to suffering and passive in existence was a child who never believed in his or her ability to change the world. The world is what we dream it to be, and it is through debate that a child is encouraged to evaluate their surroundings and ask the hard question,

"What kind of world do I want to live in?"

A child who knows the answer to this question will become an adult who strives for a better world. Neglecting to encourage the youth to improve upon our mistakes propagates a world of indifference, which is why the youth must become the priority.

Ibrahim Rashid is a freshman studying International Relations at Boston University. He hosts the IR Today Podcast Series, writes for the IR Review, and teaches debate with Debate Mate USA.

This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation following the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.