Lawson writes . . . sharing thoughts and memories

September 1, 2012

Debating

Filed under: Uncategorized — lawsonjolly @ 5:00 am

Debating!  We all do it!  We debate over an issue . . . we debate a time to meet together . . . we debate where we will go on vacation . . . we debate about buying a new car.  Debating is part of life.  Debating is not arguing . . . it is an exchange of opinions, ideas, even facts.  The debate can even be with ourselves!

Debating is as old as mankind.  It is healthy if it remains in a framework of rationality.  It is out of this facet of life that competitive debating emerged.  There are high schools and colleges that sponsor debate teams for competition.  It becomes a contest as in sporting events.

In competitive debating, there are explicit rules and the debate is presided over by several judges.  The presentation and responses are scored and a team is declared the winner.  Debating requires the participants to be well prepared on the resolution . . . and prepared well enough to present extemporaneous responses to the opponents’ presentation.

I was a debater in high school.  We fielded a team for competition on the district, state, and even national level if we could make it that far.  Our team of four, with alternates, was divided into the affirmative (for the proposition) and negative (against the proposition).  In competition, the affirmative would debate the negative from the other school, and vice versa.

My partner and I had the affirmative.  We would present our reasons for affirming the proposition while our opponents would seek to give valid reasons to negate the proposition.  When my partner would make her presentation, a member of the opposing team would seek to nullify her argument.  At that time, I would be seeking to make notes to contradict the negative arguments.  Although each one of us would have an affirmative presentation, we had to be prepared extemporaneously to argue against their arguments.

Our senior year, I felt we had a real shot of moving past district competition and on to state competition.  In district, the proposition was “Resolved that the United Nations should form a more perfect union.”  My partner and I felt we had a presentation that was skillfully designed.  In fact, we were convinced it might be a good model for the United Nations.  We presented how the world could function more effectively if we had one currency . . . and one common language, even with everyone maintaining their birth language.  We suggested how the governing of the United Nations could be changed to accommodate so many world crises and issues.  We truly believed that a more perfect union of the nations of the world could be formed.

When the scores were tallied . . . we had won!  But we lost!  How can that be?  There were three judges.  One was an attorney, another a professor from Agnes Scott College, and . . . the third judge did not arrive.  The professor offered to engage one of the senior students at the university.  Our coaches agreed.  The young lady was perhaps nervous and did not understand the whole process.  She gave us the highest score on the tally sheet, but when it came to give her one vote for a winner, she cast it for our opponents.

Of course, there was debate among the judges and the coaches.  For some unknown explanation, the agreement was that the winner was decided by a majority of votes from the judges, regardless of their personal scoring of the participants.  Thus the other team won two to one.  That ended our debate year!

I have never forgotten the disappointment —  perhaps even anger!  But I am sure I have made such mistakes in my life as did that young judge.

But debating served me well, I believe.  Becoming a minister, there are certain skills learned in debating that have been helpful.  There are tips for everyone in having conversations, differing opinions, and expressing beliefs.  One cardinal rule in debating is to avoid emotions.  Emotions make our words sound different; emotions can elicit counter emotions which can raise the level of conversing to arguing . . . and even hurt feelings.

I confess that a tactic in competitive debating was to avoid emotions on my part, but seek to get the opponent emotional and to use emotionally charged words aimed at me.  For the opponent to be visibly upset or angry causes them to lose their composure . . . and thus points for our team!  But you can see that among friends or in a meeting, that should be avoided!

Several years ago a friend wrote me.  She said, “I remember that in high school you were a pretty good debater.  I guess it has helped you as a preacher.  I guess the only difference in debating and preaching is that the people cannot argue back to you.”  She doesn’t know — people argue back to me all the time in a sermon — I just don’t always hear them!

Yes, I am grateful for the debating skills learned.  I believe it was another way God was preparing me for the plan He had for my life!  All our experiences in life contribute to being more of the person God desires us to be. 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  (Romans 8:28)

Lawson

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