A debate mentor and friend of mine is leaving the debate scene. After several years in debate, and various successes at national championships in several leagues he found that he had become out of touch with the core principle of good debate; the pursuit of truth. In fact, he went so far as to tell me that he borders on nihilism due to his dedication to persuasion. In the end, he found himself caught up in the art of winning ballots with no regard to bettering his own worldview, and pursuing the truth of the Lord.
In my relatively new debate career, I have found that there is a constant struggle between finding what your core principles are regarding a resolution, and what will persuade judges. Debate teaches us how to consider and effectively argue for an idea, without fully ascribing to the mindset that goes along with that idea.
Stoa’s mantra is “Speaking Boldly. Changing the world for Christ.” The mission statement of NCFCA is “to promote excellence in communications through competitive opportunities where homeschool students develop the skills necessary to think critically and communicate effectively in order to address life issues from a biblical worldview in a manner that glorifies God.” Often times as fierce competitors it is easy to lose sight of these goals, when in reality they are the most important thing one can achieve from a career in speech and debate. Let’s examine what it takes to thoroughly invest into
Ground yourself in what you believe.
One popular and simple saying states that you are your own worst enemy. This is particularly true in finding your own core principles as a debater. If you allow yourself to stray from your own basic sense of morality, due to logical extensions and straw man arguments that you create in your own mind, you can easily find yourself lost and out of touch with the values and principles that you truly believe in.
When you ground yourself and understand why you hold your beliefs, grappling with your own inner debater is made infinitely easier. Remaining strong against the constant assault of ideas that we see in an era dominated by dissent in media will be simpler. Staying steadfast in faith will be necessary to fulfill the end goal of being involved in speech and debate.
Remember winning isn’t winning if you haven’t pursued truth.
I’d be willing to bet that at least one point in your debate career has left you looking over ballots thinking “Wow, I won on that argument?” That kind of win is not nearly as fulfilling as reading that the argument you truly believed in resonated deeply with a judge and won you the round. It’s not always possible to argue for what you truly believe in a debate round. Exploring a new mindset is not necessarily straying from your pursuit of truth. However it is always beneficial to understand the view opposing your own.
Sun Tzu said in The Art of War that “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” This ancient word of wisdom stays true to this day, especially in the world of debate. When you have a thorough understanding of why people have different views on certain issues, you will more effectively be able to defend your own side. Not only are you more equipped to defend your own true perspective, but when you understand why people believe in certain ideals, you are better able to win rounds with arguments you truly believe have merit. It is only truly winning if you win on arguments that are strong and true.
Be open minded in your beliefs, but not nebulous.
In pursuing the truth, one must not be dogmatic. Exploring different concepts and ideas opens you up to unlimited potential. However, there is such a thing as being too open minded. It’s beneficial to be open to new things, but not so much that you are willing to abandon your way of thinking on a whim. It’s very important to keep a solid foundation.
It’s also important to allow yourself to explore other ways of thinking. Aristotle aptly said ”It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a notion without assenting to it.” This reigns true.
On Stoa’s liberal arts resolution, I have had a nearly unscathed win record on affirmative. A position I don’t personally agree with. I attribute much of my success to the fact that I have been able to approach the idea with a clean perspective. I entertained the notion I had inherent beliefs against, but set aside my bias. I still disagree with the resolution, but I now have a much better understanding as to why. It would be impossible to leave speech and debate on your senior year of highschool without have experienced something similar.
Debate is one of the best things you can do to improve yourself.
Whether it’s communication skills, researching ability, writing, reading, overcoming the fear of public speaking or making yourself more attractive to colleges… Debate will benefit you.
But by far the best way debate can benefit you, is by teaching you how to best spread the gospel and share your faith in the Lord! However, like anything debate must be pursued in a wise and Godly way. Many debaters have the end goal of winning tournaments or qualifying for nationals, but they forget the real end goal: pursuing truth.