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Beyond the Law: The One with the Debater

Updated: Nov 3, 2019

The following interview was conducted between a member of Lexicon and Mahherrajan Narayanan, who is a recent graduate from Taylor’s Law School and is currently pursuing his CLP. He is a passionate member and coach of Taylor’s Debate Club and has won multiple debate competitions.

1) What is the structure of debate competitions like?

Debate tournaments are impromptu; teams don’t know what the topics are beforehand and they’re usually given a certain amount of time to prepare for the topics given (such as 15 minutes or 30 minutes) and then the first speaker will have to start presenting their stance.

2) Why debate?

I started debating because I was interested in the topics that were discussed. Some things worked in my favour because I have a father who read a lot and forced me to read a lot; we had CNN playing in the background all the time, so I picked up on a lot of things. When I started debating in high school, a lot of the things that I knew could be put to use in debates. This kind of knowledge is literally useless everywhere else besides in debating competitions, and that’s how I started joining the sport. I also joined the sport because I grew up with a stutter; now I don’t really struggle with it because these nine years of training have helped me with my speech difficulties. Debating presented a unique opportunity to do something different and I quite liked it. The community is also quite accepting and inclusive, so I just stuck around and continued debating in university.

3) How did you prepare for the competitions?

There are a lot of things that go into breadth. Normally, you do a lot of reading. Debating is not something you only have to do for a month or two – it’s actually a lifestyle. When I’m debating, what I generally do is: I wake up in the morning or when I’ve got some free time, I just read the news to see what’s happening because basically, the topics that are tested in debate competitions often involve current issues. I also have the Economist app on my phone (which is a Bible for debaters) since experts write on a particular matter. This is just my personal training.

In a team, we pick a motion and prepare for it. The thing is, the content may vary but the strategies are often similar. So, we do a lot of fact sheets, we spar with other teams in Taylor’s and we have a lot of drills during our training sessions. Besides the weekly training sessions, preparing for a competition involves a lot of individual work and the extra teamwork that we do outside of training – in essence, debate competitions require a lot of effort and time.

4) Who were your teammates?

When I debate for Taylor’s (since in most tournaments, especially regional tournaments, you’re expected to join as an institution) I team up with people from the Law school, the ADP programme, the School of Communications…it’s a diverse bunch of people who are of both local and foreign nationalities.

5) What was your biggest takeaway from the competitions?

I think it’s just the worldview that you construct from debating: just learning about different communities, cultures and issues. I think some Malaysians may be quite insular at times towards certain issues. Sometimes – and how do I put this in politically correct terms – they may be rather selective towards which issues they want to pay attention to, and it’s because of a lack of exposure to the different cultures and views offered by the entire world.

As much as I hate to say it, education systems up until the tertiary level put a spotlight on a certain given format and they expect you to comply with it – everything can be easily memorized. In university, you are expected to think critically, which is a struggle most people have at this level. I think that debate has taught me to be critical about everything I see.

Winning is also the best thing ever. Taylor’s has done pretty well in regionals; in fact, it could easily be called one of the best teams in Malaysia for debate competitions. When I first started, people used to write us off as easy competition, but right now we are one of the biggest powerhouses of debating in the country. So it’s quite nice to have our presence and talents being recognized. And I am quite comfortable with saying we’re one of the best co-curricular clubs in Taylor’s since we have multiple international achievements on a yearly basis. That also kind of helps us individually in making applications for our careers or internships.

6) What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when debating?

I think a lot of people drift away from debating because they feel like this is an obligation they can’t keep up with since it takes up a lot of their time. But I kind of feel like I need this, I need something to be always going on for me – without it, I end up becoming quite complacent and lazy. So, I feel like my time is being put to good use this way. The biggest challenge is always time. I hate it when I travel because it makes you sick very easily. Returning to classes when you’re recovering from an illness you picked up from another country is a struggle; it’s something you have to train your body to withstand. The same thing will happen if you work and travel anyway.

It’s also very demanding in terms of commitment. You’re expected to give your 100% all the time. In school, when we’re doing group projects, I have to travel quite a bit and juggle between debating, academics and also living a healthy life. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have classmates who are understanding of my situation and I don’t know what I would’ve done without their consideration.

7) Any advice for future law students who are interested in taking part in debate competitions?

I definitely think people need to join debating. It will test you on your ability to think on your feet and to be critical. That’s exactly why I was able to do slightly better in mooting; it’s because I was not afraid of being confronted about the things that I’ve said or speaking up in front of other people. Many of my friends are smart but very afraid when it comes to presentations or public speaking. This is an interesting phobia because in this case it’s because people don’t know what the consequences of speaking up are. So, if you join debating, you get comfortable with the idea of public-speaking in a very high-pressure. You can use the experiences you gain from debating in mooting, or during your internships when you’re put to the test and asked for your opinions or when you attend client-counselling competitions. What you have in mind isn’t always important; it’s also about how you express yourself. You can gain soft skills from debating which you can apply in law school.

Studies should be a priority, but it shouldn’t be everything. Employers don’t look solely for grades – everyone can obtain good grades. It’s about what you can provide for the company.

Lastly, I really think law students should dabble in competitions. Some students attend the weekly trainings and think, “Oh, this is so intimidating.” But people don’t know the true experience of debating unless and until you attend a competition. Many law students from other universities debate; some of the best debaters are law students. It’s just surprising that our law school, being as good as it is, has a limited presence in debating. I highly encourage law students to debate.

If you want to get involved, you can express your interest in the club (by becoming a member or confronting a current member of the debate club) and we’ll train you in debating. We’ll also have a selection process to pick the students who wish to go for regional competitions. But at the same time, we also have a Junior Development Programme where a senior will team up with a junior to help them and ensure the entire experience isn’t so intimidating.

If you're interested in joining the Taylor's Debate Club, feel free to approach Har Naveenjeet Singh or Kimberley Justine Tegjeu (currently Semester 3 law students), who are members of the Debate Club!

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