Chester Debating Society © .

Chester Debating Society

Est 1902



A personal view by

William Waldron QC

October 2016

We live in the Internet age.  Computers and laptops are part and parcel of life for so many now that you are the exception rather than the rule if you do not have at least one electronic device at home.  It is almost impossible to walk down any city centre street without seeing scores of people paying greater attention to their mobile ‘phone than to the surroundings through which they are wandering.  Indeed, useful though they are, mobile telephones have become somewhat of a plague – particularly when used by motorists!  For the next generation, I suspect even today’s obsession with the latest gadgets will look measured.

Do not misunderstand me.  I am a great believer in technology and the benefits brought about by development of the Internet cannot be underestimated.  But as with most things in life, technology has its disadvantages.  One of those disadvantages, now being researched quite extensively, is the effect that constant use of electronic devices has on social interaction.  Take a simple example.  I can almost guarantee that if you were to wander into any restaurant of your choosing this evening and sit down and observe your fellow diners, you would find individuals, couples and families with their heads lowered, conversing with their mobile ‘phone or tablet.  From time to time, they might look up and smile and, when the food arrives, there might be some effort at conversation. However, very quickly, attention will refocus on the screen.  There is good psychological evidence that the younger generation is, to some extent, losing the ability to converse ‘face-to-face’.  If the communication of choice is via a blinking cursor, opportunity for social interaction is more limited and the danger of isolation increases.

For the better part of 15 years now, I have debated at the Chester Debating Society with my good friend Simon Berkson.  The motions have been many and varied from the extremely serious to the light-hearted.  On some occasions, the gathering has been ‘select’ but on others numbers have been high and debate lively.  However, each and every meeting has had one thing in common.  The experience inevitably leaves me with a great sense of how important the spoken word is and how energising and effective a tool debating is as a means of the bringing together of people of all ages and from different walks of life.  One of the huge advantages of living in a democracy such as ours is that we are entitled, within the bounds of reasonableness, to articulate any views we wish on any topic we choose.  There are other parts of the world in which people have the died, and would still die, for such a right.  It is all too easy to take for granted the sort of freedoms we enjoy, encapsulated by our right to debate.  It would be a huge loss to us all if societies such as the CHESTER DEBATING SOCIETY were allowed to dwindle to the point of extinction.  Happily, the Society is flourishing and new faces, both young and old are starting to appear.

I am a great believer in the spoken word.  I have spent most of my adult life engaging in public speaking of one form or another.  I am absolutely sure that communication on this personal level is vital both for the well-being of individuals and society.  Faced by a computer screen, one can type almost anything from the comfort of an office or an armchair.  All too often, the true message is lost in ill – considered proclamations or heated protestations.  Not so with the spoken word.  The meaning of any message may alter dramatically when one can see the deliverer of that message and hear in the intonation of their voice the sense in which they mean it.  There is one further, major, additional advantage that often goes unnoticed.  It is the opportunity to listen and reflect.  Respectful debating allows for the broadening of minds and the encouragement of education.  Indeed, there is enormous merit in the proposer of any particular motion not believing in it at all!  If that sounds a curious proposition, think again.  There are few things in life that are ‘all one way’.  Almost always, there is more than one, credible, point of view.  Having to advance an argument which is not necessarily your own forces you to think about life from a different perspective.  It is that very ability on which so much that we do is based.  If I do not attempt to understand the world from your perspective, how can I expect you to understand it from mine?  

The purpose of these words is simple.  On each occasion I have had the pleasure to debate with the Society I have said, with genuine passion, that I believe resolutely in the value of the spoken word and the aims of the Society.  I encourage all to participate.  Without doubt, even for those whose pleasure lies simply in listening to the views expressed by others, the experience is one that cannot help but leave you more energised, more tolerant and better informed and with a desire to spend more time in the company of others and less in company of microchips.

I very much look forward to seeing you at the Chester Debating Society at some time in the near future.

Will Waldron QC