Before I begin, I ought to inform you that I am deeply unqualified to give this advice. I have spent much of my life looking far more stern than most people would consider proper, and still think myself an unflappable pessimist. Read at your own peril.
Out on a Limb
The goal of this article is to persuade you to take a risk and go “out on a limb” within this upcoming competition season. More importantly, its aim is to convince you to do something fun — something you’ll never forget.
Last year, NCFCA Team Policy debaters took on the exciting yet treacherous topic of the EU’s immigration policy. It was both exciting and treacherous for the same reason: within European politics, everyone hates everyone else, and has for quite some time.
The most popular case last year was to “Legalize NGO SARs.” In gist, European non-governmental organizations (NGOs) conduct search and rescue operations (SARs) to save migrants in distress at sea. Who wouldn’t support that?
The answer: EU member nations. In fact, states such as Italy and Greece do their best to prevent these search and rescue missions from happening; they levy bogus lawsuits against the unfortunate organizations to waste their time and suck their funds. To solve this, the plan amends an EU law so that, in theory, the unfair prosecutions cease.
After briefing against this case for far too long, my partner and I realized that we had enough disadvantages to do something ridiculous: flip the case on its head. Sure enough, at the very next tournament, we rolled up with a case to Ban NGO SARs… we passed a law to force EU member nations to prosecute these organizations.
It felt absurd! Partly, I’m sure, because it was. The notion of prohibiting all migrant charity operations throughout the entire continent is one that has escaped the fantasies of even the hardest European nationalists.
But oddly enough, those few rounds were some of the most fun debates I have ever been a part of. Despite the absurdity of our case, none of the judges seemed to think twice. Possibly because NCFCA judges are secretly hardline ethno-nationalists, but more likely because, in a Team Policy debate round, anything can fly if phrased well enough.
That example precisely embodies the spirit of this article. I want you to try something like that: something harmlessly, amusingly, and unambiguously ridiculous. Not because it will make you win, though that might be an added benefit. Not even because you will become legendary within your friend group, though you definitely will. I want you to try something “out on a limb” because it is fun and adventurous, and in speech and debate, those two qualities should be some of your top priorities.
It Will All Be Over Soon
Picture a Team Policy debate, with four enigmatic teenagers yelling at each other. They’re debating about the EU’s immigration policy — something most people don’t care very much about. But to them, it’s the only debate worth having. To them, the EU’s immigration policy waits on no one.
How strange this must seem to an onlooker! Why are they so serious? They are fixated on what is really a small and unimportant moment, just like one of their peers might become fixated on a level in a video game. Somehow, they are missing a bigger picture.
In speech and debate, the bigger picture isn’t all that big. If you’re lucky, you get five or six years to compete in your league, and once that time has elapsed, you’re out. Sure, you can always come back to judge a round or two, say hello to your friends, and run errands for tournament staff (*obligatory eye roll*), but you will never compete again. The movie’s ending soon, and there is no sequel.
With that in mind, I have a question for you: what do you think you’re going to remember most from your years in speech and debate? Your awards? How many times you qualified for Nationals? Your debate record in your senior year?
If you’re anything like me, I’d guess not. You’ll remember your friends, to be sure, and you’ll remember the people you were close with. But more particularly, you’ll remember the things you did with those people.
So, what are you waiting for? Run that wacky case you can’t stop laughing at! Give impromptu bingo a try! If a joke comes into your mind during an otherwise somber debate round, put on a winsome smile and give it all you’ve got! Don’t ever judge a tournament by your final placings instead of the laughs you’ve shared. Most importantly, when your speech and debate career is done, don’t let yourself be most regretful of the things you didn’t try.
Trust me… Nationals can wait.