Now I’ve done it. If I was “rough around the edges” before, I’m practically Ebeneezer Scrooge now—and that’s before the ghosts paid him a visit.
But hear me out on this one.
My Problem With The Question™
“How are you doing today?”
“How are you this morning?”
“How are you feeling?”
Collectively, I call these queries The Question™. I’d wager that The Question™—or a substitute for it, like “how are your speeches going” or “congratulations on making it to [outround]”—is the first question asked in at least 30% of cross-examinations within the NCFCA. That percentage, though not overwhelming, is too much. To explain why I believe this is true, I’d like to make a distinction between two kinds of debaters:
- Debaters who genuinely care how their opponent is feeling.
- Debaters who don’t care very much how their opponent is feeling, at least while the debate is ongoing.
I don’t give half a wombat’s granduncle which of these types you are, but in either case, it is disingenuous to begin cross-examination by asking The Question™.
If you legitimately, genuinely care about your opponent’s mental and/or physical state, then congratulations. That’s magnificent. Seriously. Well done. But, I prythee, O thoughtful one, do tell: Why Didn’t You Ask The Question™ Before The Debate?! As the paragon of virtue that you are, you probably did. And if so, then Why Are You Asking It Again?!
If you’re the type of debater who doesn’t really care too much about your opponent’s feelings, you probably don’t ask The Question™ too often. But maybe you do. I say that because the purpose of The Question™ has never really been to ascertain wanted information about how your opponent is actually doing. Suppose they gave you an honest answer (e.g. “oh, well, my fish just contracted TB so I’m pretty bummed about that”). You wouldn’t know what to do with it! Their answer, to put it bluntly, is entirely beside the point.
Instead, the purpose of The Question™ is to create a posture of civility and bigheartedness. You want the judge to think that you care about the real answer. You want them to think that you care so much about the wellbeing of your opponent that you just have to know if their satisfaction with Life In General has significantly changed since the debate started 15 minutes ago.
Justifications For The Question™?
If you are a subscriber to The Question™ and disagree with this position, I would ask only this: what purpose does it fulfill?
I can think of a few responses:
- You didn’t have enough time to ask it before the debate.
- You want your opponent to know that you are civil so that they don’t become too defensive.
- You don’t have enough questions to fill your cross-ex time and want to make it seem longer than it was.
- You are trying to think of the best way to phrase your first substantive question but need a few seconds.
The first is dubious because any time is enough to ask, “how are you doing today?”
If you espouse the second, I’m fairly convinced you’re just psyching yourself out.
And even if the third and fourth were legitimate excuses, they’re nonspecific: they apply to every filler question. Out of all the filler questions you had at your disposal, Why Would You Pick The Only One You Have Already Asked Your Opponent?!
To be clear, I am not saying, “don’t be nice, it ruins debate.” Civility and respect are essential to Debate As It Should Be. I am saying that you shouldn’t act nice just to make the judge like you more. That’s called pandering. If you genuinely respect your opponent, you won’t need to be disingenuous to prove it.
The views expressed above are mine, not Ethos’.
The debate community needs to hear this. Thank you.
I wholeheartedly agree. If you aren’t civil, asking this question won’t make you so. The only problem is when you run into judges who are so used to hearing The Question that they dock you speaker points if they don’t hear it. For those judges, I like the middle ground CX intro: “I hope you’re doing well today…” which ticks the civility box without wasting time on getting an answer.
John Gardner here.
How are you doing today? How would you recommend beginning a cross-examination? For context, the judges/coaches in my club always say to start with a compliment. I have never really liked this because a) it isn’t a question, and b) saying “great speech!” seems dishonest a good bit of the time. I have never felt comfortable just jumping into the topic off the bat either, as it seems a little blunt. Am I overthinking? Thanks.
Hi John! You have a few options. When I was competing, if I thought my opponent made a good speech, I would tell them as much before the cross-examination began. “That was a good speech, I have three minutes of questions for you if you’re ready.” Once the cross-examination started, I would begin asking questions. If you like, you can have a lead-in to your first question (“when you were making xyz point, you read a quote from abc person, right?”) to give the judge time to grasp where you’re going. Or, you could come up with a question different from “how are you?” to ease tension. I would recommend simply asking a probative question when the timer starts, but it is up to you.
Thank you so much!