Jadon took over Ethos Debate in 2020 as debaters had to quickly shift towards online competition in the height of the Pandemic. Since taking on that role he’s overseen significant growth year over year. Ethos has played an important role in Stoa and the NCFCA during his tenure. Now, as he moves to pursue his PhD, he’s passed the reins over to Marc Davis, an NCFCA alum and debate coach of over a decade.
I remember when Ethos began. I was a young, enthusiastic, completely outmatched debater coming out of my novice season in which, as far as I could tell, I had the worst record in the state of California. I was learning about these sourcebook things and heard rumors that a new one, strangely called “Purple Killer Bunnies”, was better than the rest because it had evidence from academic journals that you could typically only access through college libraries. I purchased that sourcebook, and it showed me arguments I wasn’t seeing elsewhere, from sources I wasn’t seeing elsewhere. I’m sure I used that resource poorly, as I remained a relatively poor debater for a while longer, in love with the activity but green through and through. But from the start, what would mercifully be renamed the Ethos Sourcebook was a cut above the rest. It was the only sourcebook I consistently purchased throughout my debate career.
In the nearly twenty years since, Ethos has maintained its reputation of quality and I could not be more proud to continue that tradition. I’ve stuck around past my time competing, trying to help the next generation, because I truly, genuinely believe in speech and debate. I believe it’s educationally vital, in a time when public discourse is consumed by Skinner Box-optimized hot take nonsense, that we train people to think soberly, deeply, and charitably.
As I’ve thought about how I want to frame this first post, two words keep coming to mind: humility and curiosity. When I reflect on my time competing and my observations as a coach over the past few years, I believe it might be wise to re-dedicate ourselves to these qualities. When stubbornness and arrogance are the waters in which we swim, it takes intentionality to turn against the tide.
Humility is essential to learning, because intellectual humility is the capacity to understand that you might be wrong. If you’re never wrong, you cannot learn, because there is nothing left to learn. At that point you’ve puffed yourself up to the level of God. Pride isn’t only sinful, it’s absurd. Once we accept that we can be wrong, we open ourselves up to learning. I think some debaters, deep down, think there’s some end point where they’ve reached the summit of debate. There is no such thing. We, I pray, will never stop learning.
Humility is also essential to life. Debate, for all its benefits, can encourage arrogance because it’s a competitive activity. When you win a tournament or picket fence a room, it’s easy to believe yourself superior to the competition, because, in a very real sense, you were. But competitive accomplishments are fleeting. We’re called to be “servant of all”, to “count others more significant than yourselves.” This isn’t an easy task, and like learning it does not end, but must be re-committed to each day. I recently read a short book on humility by 19th century pastor Andrew Murray, who reminds us that, “The seemingly insignificant acts of daily life are the test of eternity, because they prove what spirit possesses us.” We therefore should, “Every morning remind yourself afresh of your emptiness so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in you. Let a willing, loving, restful humility be the mark that you have claimed your birthright—the baptism into the death of Christ.”
Curiosity is also essential to learning; the uncurious mind settles before it understands. I’ve been perusing the Ethos blog archives recently and found this fantastic article Isaiah McPeak wrote before he left. He talks about the value of asking “but why?” to further understanding and warns against a kind of emergent dogmatism that sprouts when we fail to do so. I can attest that the idea that “values” only belong in LD debate is still alive and strong, even though it doesn’t survive the smallest bit of scrutiny. I love the idea that students should be instructed to reject anything we teach if we can’t explain the “why” behind it.
The fact is that the ability to concede that we might be wrong is only the first step. The second is to be curious enough to put in the work to find a better answer. When we train ourselves to always ask “but why?” we not only find better knowledge, but we deepen our understanding of the knowledge we already have.
So, as I transition into ownership of Ethos, I want to re-dedicate it towards humility and curiosity. When I think about the tradition of quality I wrote about before, these two virtues are at the root. Jadon has done a remarkable job re-building the company up post-pandemic, and I cannot thank him enough for thinking of me as his successor and for his help in creating a smooth transition. Seriously—you’ve been a tremendous help and I hope your time at Cornell isn’t as grueling as it appears it might be.
If you’re a bit fan of Ethos and worried that I’m going to come in and change anything, don’t be. The things you like—the coaching, Legends, and the sourcebook—aren’t going anywhere. Jadon set up great systems there and I only hope to improve on them incrementally. However, I will have the time to expand what Ethos offers. In the near term that’s going to mean more video content over on the youtube channel (go subscribe!), online summer workshops (if you’re a Mars Hill competitor, keep your eyes peeled), and online classes in the fall. Further out in time I have more ideas, but you’ll just have to be patient to learn about those plans
I’m not here to shake things up, but to do my best, my very best, to continue reinforcing the core qualities that have made Ethos a fantastic resource these past two decades.
- Mark 9:39
- Philipians 2:3
- Murray, “Humility,” 53
- This line, perhaps not coincidentally, calls to mind Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, where the poet praises, “that best portion of a good man’s life, / His little, nameless, unremembered, acts / Of kindness and of love.”
- Murray, “Humility,” 86