The True Meaning of Debate


“Flight crew prepare for takeoff,” the captain of the plane announces over the loudspeaker. Here I am with my seat in the upright position. I am on a four hour flight to Dallas, Texas, en route to the national debate tournament. The Dallas Ten. That’s what they call us. After months of tryouts and practices, I am one of the elite ten debaters representing my school. Our megalomaniacal coach (his words, not mine), stands in front of me, screaming at my debate partner. As his words resonate through the cabin and saliva spatters everywhere, the flight attendant runs over and tries to calm him down. All I hope is that I am not the next target of my coach’s explosive temper.

We land just as soon as I finish reviewing Michigan’s “Gates Counter-Plan.” The topic of the debate is: the U.S. federal government should substantially increase public health assistance to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr. Miles, who has not smiled since he was twelve years-old, has publicly embarrassed every debater on the plane, except for me. We are in the shuttle, on the way to the hotel, when my time comes. “MEDIOCRITY IS NOT AN OPTION!” he yells, when I don’t have the answer to his question. A wave of spit drenches those sitting in the rows behind me. I am embarrassed and defeated, as Mr. Miles singles me out in front of the team; I am also determined, now more than ever, to win this tournament.

There are twenty minutes until our first round of debate. After the required handshakes and coin flip, it’s time to start the show. I whip out my perpetually-rehearsed 1AC speech and begin. “Contention 1 with regards to harms, Contention 2 with regards to inherency, Contention 3 with regards to topicality, Contention 4 with regards to solvency, and finally the affirmative plan.” One look at the expressions on my opponents’ faces and I know I have this in the bag. It’s an easy win, and I breeze through the next three rounds.

Quarter final time. I present the affirmative case, and I’m on fire. However, upon cross examination, the negative team goes for a sneak-attack: the malficeian theory. The debate rages on and finally the decision is made—my winning streak is over. I sully out of the room with consternation on my face and knot in my stomach. I let down my school, my team, and above all—the coach.

During the award ceremony, I receive a trophy for being in the top eight teams of the tournament. Mr. Miles approaches and beckons me into the hallway. I brace myself for the wave of ridicule and saliva. He takes the trophy out of my hand and takes a good, long look. Then he does something that he had never done before. He gives me a smile. “I’m pleased David,” he says. “I’m very pleased.” As the words come out of his mouth, a plethora of thoughts rush through me. And I have a moment of realization, an epiphany, if you will. I realize that I am not a debater for anyone or anything else. Not for Mr. Miles and not for a shiny statue. I debate because of all that I receive from the sport. I relish a chance to research a topic and all of its views. I embrace the teamwork that is essential for success. And I embrace the fact that the debate has done more for me than I have for it. The team has made me a proficient speaker and writer, one who can get his point across clearly, with just the right amount of words. Like in this case: 615 words, to be utterly exact.

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