We ring in the first practice tournament of the year proudly, with two hours of sleep, double the cans of Redbull, and frantic crash-prep sessions with a coach. We coordinate colors with our partner’s pocket-square, or shoes, or skirt. We try out new cases, brush them off with the obligatory “Nah, we’re not gonna run this all year”, and compete ruthlessly for the coveted 4-0. Practice tournaments are tense.
I’d forgotten the tension: until last Saturday, when I attended one as a coach for the first time. Everyone had that telltale look on their face. It looked like they were overcaffeinated, under-rested, and toughing out a stress-induced stomach ache. A tournament’s atmosphere is loosely comprised of those elements, right? Pressure. Performance. Persistence. That drive to be the best. That drive to debate well.
What does a debating well mean to you? What is your definition of a perfect debate? Is it perfect if you win? Is it perfect if you speak exceptionally well? Is it perfect if you fulfill all the stock issues, and make use of complex theory? Is it perfect if the judge really likes you? Is it a combination of all of those?
If it is, you’re debating to a negative exponent. Multiplying your skills in the reverse of a positive direction. And your debates have been sub-par, missing the great purpose of debate. Have you ever experienced debate^2? Debate raised to a positive power? Debate multiplied beyond itself?
I cringed endlessly last weeked when I heard the “typicals”. The debate-crutches. The phrases debaters default to when they don’t know what else to say. The terms and phrases that, when name-dropped, somehow substitute for analysis, intellect, and any real communication. The hindrances to effective communication and enriching content.
“I’m going to go down the flow and talk about topicality and inherency.”
“Is the judge ready? Is the timer ready? Are my opponents ready?”
“We have this theory in debate called parametrics and it basically just means that the negative team can’t win on a counterplan if it’s topical, according to the parameters of the resolution and burdens of each team…”
“So for all these reasons, we strongly urge a negative ballot.”
Cliched statements are maddening for your judge. Maddening for your audience. An insult to what debate is supposed to be. It’s debating to a negative power. It confines debate to a musty closet of terms you’re “supposed to use”, theory you “have to uphold”, stock issues you “have to mention”. It makes a god out of the structure you’re taught in debate class, and marries you to irrelevantly name-dropping the “right” debate terms.
It’s a cop-out. If you’re filling your speech with only those terms, you’re copping-out of truly communicating. If you will only bring up arguments with stock-issue labels, you’re copping out of being relatable and relevant. If you’re mindlessly defaulting to terms that might not even apply to your case, you’re copping out of any real analysis. If your priority is fulfilling all four/five stock issues, you’re basically just copping out of debate entirely.
Debate is not ultimately about stock issues, theory, and urging your ballot. It’s about developing your expertise in communication. Stretching the boundaries of your mind. Forcing you to think, to learn, to pour yourself into relevant education, and rational applications of it. Debate is an art. It’s not a trade. It’s not a checklist-activity. Most debaters lean on the crutches of predictable argumentation, defaulting to the same stock-issues, and forcing themselves to only use debate terms. A great debater is an expert in communication, logic, pushing the borders of their own mind, and persuasion. A great debater has the sense to know that fulfilling all the stock issues is not an enriching debate.
Stock issues are an organizational tool. It’s helpful to group arguments, and great debating harnesses that organization. But great debating uses stock-issues to organize their content, not replace it. Your audience, when faced with a problem and a decision, already uses the stock issues. They already ask themselves:
- Is this a problem that requires action? (Inherency)
- Is addressing this problem within my bounds? (Topicality)
- Is this big enough to worry about? (Significance)
- Will my solution work? (Solvency)
- Will my solution cause negative outcomes? (Disadvantages)
You don’t need to waste time explaining those terms. Don’t use them. Apply those principles, and organize your arguments by those questions or understandable synonyms. Use them to structure existing content, but never spend your time introducing confusion that you’ll have to undo later.
I’ve seen a thousand rounds where debaters used plenty of debate jargon, and listed all of the theories and stock-issues they knew. And not a relevant thing was communicated. The judge was confused by the unexplained jargon. They didn’t learn anything. Even worse, the speakers didn’t learn either. They didn’t use their mind once. Regurgitating nonsense doesn’t activate your mind. It does not require you to think. Debating well means you soar past that. Debate^2 means you drop the jargon, drop the lazy templates, throw down your crutches, and leap into the vast world of enriching debate.
You can’t cover up surface-level knowledge with explanations of theory and terminology. So stop taking shortcuts, and train in true debate. Debate^2.
Stop using terminology that your audience won’t understand. Stop cluttering your rounds with the drivel that has replaced content. Stop bringing up irrelevant arguments. Talk about things that matter. Be interesting. Immerse yourself in education, philosophy, analysis, and the wonder of the world around you. Stop reciting memorized content and structure. Stop making debate a performance. Make your debates an engagement with your audience, and your own mind. Stimulate your mind, and convey its contents with intelligence and passion. Don’t depend on your crutches. Don’t confine yourself to what’s easy. Explore. Overcome stress, and take the time to powerfully communicate.
When you disengage your mind and rely on regurgation for content, you multiply your debating by negative exponents. And the more you apply that cheap definition of debate, the greater the negative exponent grows. Raise the level of your debating to a power that defies what you know. Pursue what it means to debate well.
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