Michael Sandel summarises the nature of democracy as a practice that “thrives on civil debate.” We are, unfortunately, as he goes on to explain: “shamefully out of practice.” And, in the midst of South Africa’s current political climate, this TED Talk proves to be especially relevant.

Here’s why:

Firstly, Sandel reminds us that for leaders to be successful, they must move beyond their own fears and debate the issues that are actually affecting others – that is, the voting public.

This begins by steering any and all heated political debates to a truly democratic argument. Political debates can often devolve into unproductive and emotionally charged – even fit-for-media-sensation – battles. The result is that the effectiveness of discussion is lost on presentation and politicians then go on to count on wooing their audiences over with style.

So, instead of beating around the bush, we must center our debates around moral convictions and, most importantly, improve our tolerance for such moral debates. In this way, we are brought closer to the restoration of truly powerful and effective civil debate.

Secondly, Sandel defines justice as giving people what they deserve – and then asks: Who deserves what and why?

Aristotle uses the flute example to answer this question. Suppose a new range of flutes is being distributed – surely the best flute in the range should be given to the best flute players? His rationale being that the essential nature of flute is to play the best music.

A similar application of justice is found in a more modern case:

Professional golfer Casey Martin requested the use of a golf cart on a PGA tour – he had a legitimate disability that made walking from point to point impossible. The Association, however, did not want to grant him the request, and golf experts who were summoned by the court testified that allowing any player to ride a golf cart will give him an unfair advantage. Despite their arguments, the supreme court ruled that a golf cart is to be provided for Martin in future with the reason being: The essential nature of golf does not involve traveling between holes.

In conclusion, Sandel discusses how addressing concerns of democratic debate can help the country move forward toward unearthing bigger issues that our politicians face. What is your opinion?

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