A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to watch a movie with my family about a young woman with Tourette’s syndrome who had the dream of becoming a teacher but had very frequent audible and motory tics. She applied to job after job and the schools would always be very impressed with her resume. The interviews would always go amazing at the start, until they found out she had Tourette’s with frequent tics and would decide not to hire her.
On the 20th-ish interview, one principal was very confused with the young women’s tics and asked her about it. She explained to him that she had Tourette’s syndrome which affected her nervous system. After hearing this, the principal became curious and asked the young woman why she persisted in applying to school after school and how she thought she could manage teaching students. The young woman asked the principal a simple question. “How long have you been teaching for?” He replied, “for about 40 years.”
“If I could teach you something about the nervous system even with your 40 years of teaching experience, then I’ll manage fine in a classroom of students” the young woman responded as she turned around and exited the room.
We All Have Something To Learn
There’s a very important lesson we can take from this story. The young woman, a recent graduate of college, was able to teach a principal who had spent his entire teaching life career to get to where he was. The lesson we can draw is that regardless of all the experience we have or the rankings or placings we achieve at tournaments, there is always more we can learn.
Learning never stops. In fact, when you graduate from high school and/or college and enter the industry, you’ll find that you’ll learn something new about your job almost every day. As easy as it is to believe that debaters who haven’t ranked as well as you don’t have anything you can learn from, they certainly do have different experiences and different views that could very much end up helping you.
And that is one of the best parts of debate. Debate isn’t just about throwing your own opinion out there as loudly and forcibly as you can. Instead, debate is about sharing your opinions and listening to others’ opinions and then building a better understanding of a topic via this process. Debate is a giant information sharing and conclusion-making process which ultimately increases the education of all sides, including the judge.
At the end of the day, we always have something we can take away and something we can learn from others. But it’s not just learning, there are also many things we can share, which brings me to the fact that…
We All Have Something To Teach
Following the same logic as above, debate is about understanding all opinions and styles and then making conclusions based on what’s been said and how it’s been said. You have a very specific and unique place in this conversation. How you debate — your speaking style, your general way, and even how you present arguments — are very intrinsic and special to yourself. While others will certainly take inspiration from you, no one will ever be exactly like you.
That’s why I believe it’s absolutely critical that you pass your skills and everything else you’ve learned and are currently learning about in debate (and also speech) to your peers, club, parents, etc. You will always have at least a few skills or experiences that you’ve had that you can share with everyone else, regardless of whether they might rank better than you or not.
I think Paul said it better than I can in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”
Paul was telling Timothy (a younger church leader) that he should always be setting examples — essentially always be teaching others — and to not let anyone look down on him because he didn’t have as much experience or ranking as others might have had.
Whether you’re winning nationals, or just beginning your awesome journey as a debater, there are always many things that you can teach others as well as learn from others. But at the end of the day, remember that while the end-goal of every round is to do your best and win, debate is not all about winning, rather it’s about honoring God with your skills and having fun!
About The Author
Justin is a three-year alumnus of NCFCA and an honors student at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. Currently a senior, he hopes to receive his degree in computer science with a concentration in cyber security and minors in criminal justice and math. In his senior year of high school debate, Justin went from never competing in a single outround to averaging semis or quarters at every national open, including 4th place at the 2021 NCFCA nationals, as well as averaging finals at regional tournaments. His philosophy is that debate is a game. Providing one is ethical, the most persuasive argument flies. At the end of the day, Justin argues you should honor God & have fun! Debate is not all about winning, it’s about how you win and the skills you foster in the process.
You can learn more about Justin by reading his bio, and you can book coaching with him over here. You can also catch more content from Justin by checking out his personal website and blog as well as subscribing to his YouTube channel.