Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Debate

For one reason or another, I’ve been overtly nostalgic lately. The past week has involved many (actually, probably one too many) trips down memory lane- in particular as it relates to my time in Bowling Green. Actually, in particular, as it relates to debate.

I’m a fan of debate. Anyone who knows me knows that for a fact. My experience in competitive debate has truly shaped me as a person, and I firmly believe I would not be where I am today without those lessons. What lessons, you may ask? Sit tight.

1. Ask questions. Ask a lot of them. Not understanding something is never an excuse.

2. Read. Read everything you can get your hands on, and then look for more. It’s not enough to get news off of one site (I don’t care if it’s Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Drudge Report, HuffPo…), and it’s not enough to look at them all. You’ve got to seek out true thought diversity in your reading materials, or you’re only getting a fraction of the story.

3. People suck sometimes. There’s nothing you can do about that, but at the same time, it’s important to stand up when it matters. There were times I wish I had.

4. People can also be exceedingly awesome. I’ll never forget one specific round against Long Beach at Point Loma. I was debating with Adam, the round was important, and we decided to engage in the narrative framework by announcing my pregnancy to the community. I’ve never been in a room so electrically charged in my life, nor have I ever experienced such a tremendous flow of compassion, support and friendship. We lost that round, but it didn’t matter. What mattered was the experience, and it was worth anything that followed. The coaches and mentors I’ve had over the years (Glenn Prince, Steve Doubledee, Jenn Sullivan, Jenny Corum, Chris Joffrion, Justin Cress, Chad Meadows, Martin Harris, Joelle Perry, Carrie Menapace and so many more) shaped my work ethic, taught me what it was to perservere and helped me figure out who I am as a person. I am forever in their debt. The camaraderie has extended far beyond the circuit, as well; Facebook has become the new prep room, and I love that.

5. Stay true to yourself. I know this is like the granddaddy of all cliches, and it seems bizarre to hear the lesson come out of debate, but it’s true. I was not the fastest or most technical debater. I’m pretty sure there were days where Chad, Tom Schally and Logan Parke would read some of the positions I cut and want to nail me to the wall for it. But it worked for me. Not always, and not perfectly- but in general, it worked for me. And I had more fun because I did what made sense to me. Which leads me to…

6. Keep an open mind. There are some pretty deep lines drawn in the sand when it comes to debate style preferences in the community. There are those who say communicative value is paramount, and others who say it’s a game, and if you can’t play it fast enough to keep up, you should get out of the way. I see value in both. I was never going to be the fastest debater, but thanks to Chad, I got to a point where I could keep up fairly well. The ability to analyze and act in a split second is perhaps one of the most valuable skills I’ve acquired over the years- in debate and elsewhere. At the same time, the ability to adapt a message to an audience is a skill I use everyday. Don’t tell me one is more valuable than another, because I might laugh at you. Really, the context of that whole debate is probably pretty irrelevant; the point is that I learned that you’ve got to be willing to see both sides. From that, and, you know, having to argue both sides of one resolution all year long.

7. It’s all relative. There are no easy answers, and there is no black and white. We may mentally darken and lighten hues to make it seem that way, but at the end of the day, it’s just how we justify things for ourselves.

8. Don’t be too quick to judge. Yes, people suck (see #3), and yes, they can be awesome (see #4), but one encounter (or hell, 15) may not be enough for you to make that call. Give people a shot.

9. No one is an island. You can think you’re a one man show, but at the end of the day, it’s the community you surround yourself with that makes life what it is. Embrace it, show love on a regular basis, and you won’t be disappointed.

10. The world is a beautiful and horrifying mess. But it’s worth engaging in. I seriously learned more in 4 years of competing and two years of coaching than I did in the rest of my academic career- and it’s not even a close call for me to say that. Burma, anyone?

I guess this is really just a big thank you to anyone who had any role in my debate participation. Whether you were a teammate, coach, judge, competitor, friend, acquaintance, student… it doesn’t matter. You’ve all changed my life for the better, and I love you dearly.

WKY- Point Loma 2006


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