Understanding Society

Tilburg University is convinced that it can contribute to solving social issues by developing and transferring knowledge and bringing together people from various disciplines and organizations.

Student Joshua Paas: "Students need to learn to be reflective and critical"

Every student starts their career as a student by checking out the university campus and finding out what the university has to offer. Joshua Paas was no exception in this respect. Four years ago, during the introduction week, he went to the information fair where first-year students are introduced to everything the university has to offer. It was here that he found out about the Cicero debating association, and decided to become a member at the very start of his studies in Tilburg.

From then on, the Liberal Arts student plunged into a very active student life at Tilburg University. He started his second year as Chairman of the debating association, and became active in the student community, but also outside the university, for several political youth associations. A passionate debater now, frequently taking part in debating challenges, his views can be characterized as positive and nuanced. While always looking for improvement of himself, more so than anything else he wants to help his fellow human beings, for instance by giving leadership- and debating workshops. In this interview, we get to know more about Joshua and what drives him.

A debater from a politically indifferent family

“While I got into debating at the university very early on, and no doubt developed political interests as a result, paradoxically I am from a politically indifferent family. Debating is something I guess I just kind of naturally got into,” explains the 21-year-old student. Meanwhile he has taken part in many debating challenges, which he looks back on with great satisfaction. “Debating has taught me a number of important things that are of great value to me in daily life. It got me good at arguing, which is very helpful in my studies and in exams. Besides that, I learned to defend different positions and to develop empathy for other views. Also, one of the very important things that you learn from debating is to speak out on issues with conviction, to get across a feeling of self-assurance and calmness.” Joshua points out that many students find this difficult, and so associations like Cicero and the initiatives they contribute to, such as the Soft Skills program, can be of great value to them.[1]

Servant Leadership

“Cicero and debating no doubt got me much more involved in societal issues and thereby in politics. My opting for Liberal Arts fits in with that really well. The program has taught me to think in terms of processes, structures, and philosophies, and to do so from a very broad perspective. I believe it is crucial that people not only learn the 'language’ of their education, but that above all they flesh out their ideas and their personal convictions, and learn to express these. This helps them realize their goals. Many find this difficult to do, and I want to play a positive role in that process.” In line with this outlook, Joshua is writing his Bachelor’s thesis on servant leadership. In it, he investigates how people develop themselves as servant leaders and how these people can be helped within organizations to achieve this growth. how people can be helped and coached in achieving their goals in a way that respects the individual, allowing people as well as organizations to grow constructively. “Work is much more fun and of higher quality when people can pursue their own goals and convictions. I want to help them realize these. Wat is most important to me is simply to be able to contribute to other people’s personal growth.”

Most important qualities defining good character

The university has an enormous responsibility. It has to facilitate and guide students in their acquiring the right knowledge, skills, and (moral) convictions. What is important in this process? For Joshua Paas, the crux is that each individual should find out what they truly think and believe, and learn to be reflective as well as critical. “I want to help my fellow men and women, but I have learned that they each have to really get to know themselves first. In other words: each individual will have to find out what their personal values, convictions and drives are. Only then will you be able to really make the right choices, to grow as a person, and eventually help others. Good character is born from giving this a great deal of thought, and acting in accordance with your true self. The central element in this is that you dare to speak out on the issue and that you know what you are talking about. But above all it is about being completely honest to yourself. Always try to make as clear as possible the things that really matter to you. Your actions and the choices you make will be strong and credible as a result, and will thus actually bear fruit.”

Formative period

During formative periods like your student days, students obviously need to acquire knowledge and skills. But more than anything else, they will need to get to know themselves. It is a prerequisite for being able to fulfill a positive and constructive role in your environment, because without character building receiving appropriate attention it is more difficult to steer yourself and our society in the right direction. In short, being critical, honest and reflective toward each other, but above all to ourselves, is to everyone’s benefit.


The Cicero Soft Skills program trains participants to develop as debaters, members of juries, and trainers. A number of these participants also receive support enabling them to go to international training courses and tournaments. The participants that have completed the training program subsequently become trainers themselves, training the next cohort.