Debaters stretch out with ‘mental gymnastics’

As the prime minister makes his way to the lectern, his mind is focused on getting his message heard. He grips the sides of the podium, takes a breath, opens his mouth and begins to speak. The latest topic at the Toronto Debating Society is now under way.

Meeting twice a month at Swansea Town Hall, the club’s latest topic dealt with whether or not nuclear power is worth the environmental risk.

For many of the members, including Jim Smith, a founding member of the club who played the role of prime minister in last night’s debate, the club is not just about having a place to debate current or philosophical issues – it is a social gathering.

“It’s fun!” he said. “Where else do you get to argue in an open way?”

But the fun comes at a price – time and effort. Vice president of the club Margie Marco said it probably takes an hour of preparation for every one minute of speaking. The end result of all the hard work is what makes it so enjoyable.

“It’s mental gymnastics. You need to know how to work at the issues,” she said. “And it takes an outlook to do that.”

She added that putting in the time is necessary to do a good job.

“No matter what side you’re working (government or opposition), you never know what the other side will bring up,” Marco said. “So you need to be prepared.”

The average debate sees between 15-20 people in attendance. There is a small annual fee to join the club, but events are open to the public free of charge.

Anita White, who is in charge of membership for the club, said the debate society is a great way for people to discuss important issues while having fun and without being judged for their opinions.

“It fills a need,” White said. “Lots of people want to have a good debate in an open forum and that’s what they get here.”

When all is said and done, the group heads over to a nearby pub. This is where they have the opportunity to further discuss the topic of the night and where some of them claim the real debate takes place.

But whether it’s going up to the podium or talking amongst friends, Jim Smith says he always has one thing on his mind: “Showtime!”

Filed by Shawn Star