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Pangryicture us both holding a mug of tea, sitting on a comfy couch, and having a nice chat about your fears and insecurities. You share with me—as many, many students have—that “judges are out to get me: they just hate me for no reason.” Then picture me, ever so kindly, saying this: “[insert your name], I think the problem may actually that you display immaturity and judges don’t see you as credible.”

Picture you saying, “Oh no, that’s not it. I play five musical instruments, read the federalists papers for fun, and know more about classical rhetoric than most communications professors. I have accumulated 21 credits in CLEP and AP, and I’m not even a senior. I am bored in every co-op class I take because I have already thought about everything we talk about. I am considering running for state representative right after I graduate, because my district will let me run when I am 19 and I have lots of good ideas. My Mom says I am way more mature than most teenagers.”

Picture me saying, “Oh yes [insert your name], I understand. You are really smart. You are much more advanced than most students your age. But you are not mature.”

Picture you saying (in your most debater-y tone), “Could you please provide a definition of maturity?”

Picture me saying, “Actually, let me teach you how to seek it.”

  1. Maturity is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

This isn’t cliché, trite, or a cop-out. This is truth. We take this seriously at Ethos. We learn from the Master. Mature people study the Master, walk in obedience to and relationship with Him, and take Christian disciplines (prayer, study, memorization, fasting, etc.) seriously.   The result is that they begin to become people of character. And people take people of character seriously. That’s what Aristotle’s term ethos actually means: credibility/character/reputation.

  1. Christ didn’t create drama; He silenced it with truth and goodness.

When Bobby shares your debate case with the rest of the nation, don’t stop talking to Bobby and blast him on Facebook. When Bobby’s mom votes against you for the third time this year, don’t tell the world how stupid she is. Move on. Grin and bear it. Turn the other cheek (in fact you could really throw Bobby off and offer, “Oh yeah, here is a copy of my back-up case if you want to share that too!” :D). But most importantly, don’t delight in drama. I have so often seen a glint in the eyes of debaters who find joy in having been wronged and are oh-so-ready to take up the cause of justice and defend their rightness and honor to the death. Honestly, I have probably felt this glint in my own eyes. I have probably thought the thought: “Bobby just started running a case similar to mine: clearly a copycat! I must now go tell my mommy and my coach and my three best friends so they can comfort me and tell me how wronged I was and help me defend myself against this grave injustice!” Isn’t drama fun? Seriously, if you (and I’m talking to you too, parents and coaches!) are looking for drama, stop creating it in the debate world and go start helping people through it in the real world. I can personally attest to the fact that after you’ve spent a few years walking with people through things like suicide, job loss, discrimination, abuse, death, etc., you will realize that the “drama” that you weirdly delighted in in the debate world is truly ridiculous and that the time you wasted on it could have been much better spent dealing with REAL-PEOPLE problems. The world doesn’t need more drama! It needs people like Christ, people who can bring His peace to chaos, love to despair, healing to suffering, and forgiveness to wrongdoing. THAT is maturity. If you begin to be THAT person, I promise your life will not be boring: it will be filled with people who see Christ in you and want your help. Don’t create drama: attract it and diffuse it by being Christ to the world around you. And by the way, judges often don’t take drama kings/queens seriously, even if the drama is being displayed out-of-round. Drama has a way of shooting credibility in the foot

  1. Christ was acutely aware of the needs and comforts of others.

In debate, being aware of the needs of others is crucial. I’ll never forget the regionals Lincoln Douglas debate round in which my judge was an elderly woman who was clearly flustered with her papers and looked very confused and slightly terrified to be judging. Enter my opposing debater, who confidently queried, “Would you please share with us your judging paradigm and experience before we start?” The woman looked like she was going to have a heart attack, at which point I said, “Ma’am, it’s perfectly fine if you don’t have any experience. About half of our judges are people with no debate experience at all: and we love that because it gives us the chance to practice explaining our ideas to normal people.” She instantly relaxed. I won the debate round right there. Why? My opponent was immature. He was a skilled debater, more experienced in LD debate theory than I, but he wasn’t remotely aware of the needs and feelings of the woman sitting in front of him. This is an obvious example, but consider less obvious applications. Do you make your judge wait for you by not getting to your room in a timely manner? Do you whisper at the table and thus impede the judge’s concentration? Do you talk super fast? Do you display a clear lack of knowledge on issues of current events from the 70s and 80s (when your judge was living)? Yes, all these things demonstrate immaturity and all of them shoot your credibility in the foot. The root of all communication is relationship. If you demonstrate to the judge that you don’t really care about the relationship, they probably won’t care about it either…and will vote for the other team. Your judge doesn’t hate you: he/she is just mirroring your commitment to the relationship!

There is much more to be said on the issue of maturity…perhaps enough to be worthy of a follow-up article. But for now, let me leave you with this: persuasion requires ethos and ethos requires credibility and credibility is impossible without maturity.

BUT NO, you say. The problem isn’t ME! The problem is the silly judges!! Let me tell you something. There are crazy judges out there. Yet, despite a few very bizarre judging stories, let me say this: in five years of competition I received over 1500 ballots and after reading each one, I would say that less than 1% of my judges displayed any type of irrational dislike for me. Yup. They didn’t always agree with me. Sometimes their reasoning was illogical. But if I displayed maturity they usually gave me a fair shot. So, if you feel that the judges are out to get you, let’s talk. Let’s talk about maturity. What’s more, let’s practice maturity!

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