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Teach them to argue with respect, not just rhetoric

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In a world dominated by social media, the skill to argue with logic and respect becomes is essential (Melyna Valle - Unsplash)

By: Nahrizul Adib Kadri

Earlier this month, during an event at Universiti Malaya, the investment, trade and industry minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz addressed the BlackRock-MAHB issue. He pointed out that those who criticize the company’s involvement due to its alleged connections with Israel should also consider their own use of products from companies where BlackRock is a major shareholder, such as Apple and Facebook.

Nahrizul Adib Kadri

He extended the argument by questioning where the line should be drawn in dealing with such companies. This directly implied that avoiding any company associated with BlackRock would lead to unwanted and impractical consequences, particularly in our so-called connected, modern world .

The argumentative techniques Tengku Zafrul used are known as ‘tu quoque’ (literally ‘You Also’, or Appeal to Hypocrisy) and ‘reductio ad absurdum’ (Reduction to Absurdity). These techniques, part of logical fallacies or rhetorical strategies, are used to persuade or dissuade an audience.

The technique itself is neither inherently good nor bad; it is just a tool that, if used correctly, can effectively convey a message. However, relying solely on logical fallacies can undermine an argument’s credibility if the audience perceives them as manipulative, or in Tengku Zafrul’s case here, elusive.

A more practical and pragmatic approach might include providing detailed information, such as clear, transparent details about the decision-making process and safeguards in place to ensure that BlackRock’s involvement does not compromise Malaysia’s interests or ethical standards.

Addressing ethical concerns directly by outlining any due diligence conducted to ensure that BlackRock’s business practices align with Malaysia’s values and policies is crucial. Highlighting the specific benefits of the deal for Malaysia, such as economic growth, improved airport management, and increased investment, supported by real data and tangible projections, can emphasize the positive aspects.

Also, opening a dialogue with critics to better understand their concerns and explaining the government’s perspective in a more detailed and respectful manner can definitely create better understanding and acceptance by all parties involved.

The point I am trying to make is that, teaching our younger generation, starting with the children, to argue with logic and evidence in a respectful manner is highly crucial in the current age of social media. This I believe, will prepare them for a world where emotional and manipulative arguments are abundant and prevalent, at any time and all the time.

Developing critical thinking skills in children helps them to evaluate information, to identify biases, and to make informed decisions. Encouraging respectful conversations, both online and offline, promotes empathy and understanding; essential elements for a healthy society. And logical arguments tend to have a more lasting and meaningful impact too, thus fostering a more informed and rational public discourse later on.

To implement these values, we can start by educating children about common logical fallacies and how to recognize them, through interactive activities and discussions. Creating opportunities for structured debates and discussions on various topics, emphasizing evidence and respect, can shape their ability to argue logically.

Using examples from social media, news, and everyday situations can illustrate the difference between logical arguments and manipulative tactics, helping them apply their skills in real life. Also, teaching children to critically evaluate information on social media and other platforms, understanding the importance of credible sources and evidence-based reasoning, is an important skill in today’s digital world. Particularly so in the multipolar world we are heading now.

So by teaching our children to argue with logic, and evidence, in a respectful manner, we can help create a generation better equipped to handle the complexities of the digital age. This approach will hopefully strengthen their individual capabilities, and at the same time creates a more rational and respectful society.

Isn’t that the future that we want?

The author is an associate professor of biomedical engineering, and former Director, Corporate Communications Centre, Universiti Malaya. He can be reached at nahrizuladib@um.edu.my

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