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Usually, running slides is the easiest job in the world. You pull up the powerpoint and just keep hitting the arrow button. Come on. Even technologically challenged as I am, even I could handle that, right?

The presentation went swimmingly, the speaker got to the end of her talk, and I thought, Great! My job here is done! I closed the slides and promptly started thinking about other things. Other things like, oh, say, checking email, doing research for a project I was working on, finding a Christmas present for my brother…

“Um, Anna? …What are you doing?”

At the speaker’s question, I glanced up.


She didn’t have to ask what I was doing. Everyone in the room knew exactly what I was doing. Because there it was, emblazoned across the projector screen. I’d forgotten to blank it—to delink my computer from the projector. I’d just been surfing the web in front the entire class.

Life gives us many of these lovely moments. You forget something important, you say something daft, you do something ridiculous, and you feel like a failure at life. I like to call these events ‘Mortifiers’. And unfortunately, they happen a lot in debate. It’s unavoidable. The only question is how you will respond. The way you respond to a Mort indicates who you are, and it also shapes who you will become.

The Wrong Response

There are a few common responses to Morts. These reactions are usually are displayed after the event, when discussing the situation with friends and fellow debaters. You could choose to

A) Justify why you were right and claim that the judge was just irrational,

B) Explain that you’re a novice/the rules changed/you’re new to this league/etc. and so can’t be expected to know how this works,

C) Pretend like you don’t care and keep doing the same thing,

D) Quit and never debate again, or

E) All of the above.

Though tempting, none of these options are very positive. A and B show a lack of responsibility—you’re shifting the blame to an uncontrollable, external factor. One round I debated years ago illustrates this principle with painful clarity. The judge told us in his judging philosophy that he hated logical fallacies. So what did I do during my 1NC? I brought up Hitler. And hey, presto! Reductio Ad Hitlerum—I had just reduced the round to Hitler. It was one of the most idiotic things I could have done, and it was reflected on the ballot. I felt stupid. I should have known better. I did know better. So how did I react? When talking about it with my friends afterward, I said the judge was inexperienced and didn’t prioritize the right issues in the round. I blamed him for my poor choice. I demonstrated an external locus of control (this mindset of attributing success or failure to an external factor is associated with low self-confidence, and sometimes linked with lower success in the workforce). I should have just taken ownership of my mistake, and avoided making that same error in the future.

C and D are just ways to make yourself feel better—after all, if you don’t care about something, it can’t hurt you, right? Most of the time, this jocularity or careless grin is masking an insecurity. Debaters who really care deeply try to pretend that they don’t. They pretend the Mort never happened. As a result, they practically guarantee that they’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over again, which pretty much undermines the entire purpose of debate.

Everything I just discussed is easy to do—our natural fallback is to ignore or justify mortification. But the right response is much harder. And what is the right response?

We’ll talk about that in the next post.


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