“With nothing left unsaid, my partner and I – and our opponents – wait anxiously at the hallway outside, as the adjudicators discuss the results of our heated debate. Did my teammate and I defend our side strong enough? Would we break even? Did we nab enough points to win?”
This is what went through Rock’s mind after the final round of the CMLI Debate Competition attended by the La Salle Debate Society six years ago. They did win, and he said it was a wonderful feeling knowing that their hard work and training had paid off.
To this day, the adrenaline rush he gets from debating pushes him to be the best he can be. For you, dear reader, it may seem like an impossible feat, but really, debate is just a matter of speaking your heart out.
Tricks of the Trade
So what does it take to debate? Some people dub debating as one of the hardest sports ever invented. Others dismiss it as a battle between nerds and know-it-alls. But at its core, debate is an exchange of opinions. It is a way in which virtually any topic can be discussed and tackled from different points of view. Practically anything that people find interesting or peculiar can be debated on. Topics can go from petty arguments like how college students should dress up, to very serious and sensitive ones like gay marriage, religion, or the Corona trial. The possibilities are limitless.
To be a debater is to be a researcher and an expert. To stand a chance of defending one’s own arguments or attacking the other side, one has to stick to the facts. It is also important to look at the pros and cons of a particular topic because a good offense comes from learning how to crack an opponent’s defense and twisting it to one’s advantage. Skilled debaters put themselves in the shoes of their opponents – carefully analyzing their side of the argument – and launch their rebuttals (counter-arguments) early on. If they can defend their topic well, they can just as easily rebut the enemy and leave the motion (the topic in discussion) in their side’s favor.
A common mistake a lot of debaters make is to miss out on what their opponents are saying, being engrossed as they are with their own speeches. A good debater speaks as well as he listens, paying close attention to his opponents, lest they throw him off guard. Debating is also an art of caution. Some debaters are careless enough to leave loopholes in their stand (stance or opinion), and a good listener should be able to find these loopholes and use them to his advantage.
Through a debater’s eyes
Danielle Pua, a second year Biochemistry student from the College of Science and a member of the La Salle Debate Society, says she has always been “dangerously curious”, and that debate is an avenue through which she can look for her own answers and formulate her own ideas. Debate, for her, is a lifestyle of constant learning. She debates for herself, and for anyone willing to listen.
Asked if her debating skills can help her after her debating days, she says that what she has learned has polished her speaking skills in a way that enables her to interact with a variety of people. Add to that a well-developed sense of humor!
Like most debaters, she has had her own share of roadblocks over the past year – trouble over rebutting effectively, time management, and word usage. They do not bother her too much, and she notes instead how much progress she’s made since she first started. As in any craft, she says, debating is not a quest for perfection, but a process of constant improvement.
As a battle of wits, debate is not for the faint of heart. It requires people to commit themselves and step out of their comfort zones. Like other disciplines, debating requires practice. People who are interested in the craft must learn to see things in a different light. They must not always look at their side of the equation – it’s not about winning. They must accept that there are different perspectives to a topic, and it is up to them to defend their own.
Debating comes with patience, perseverance, and discipline. Only with a good attitude can one harness the full power of debating, because contrary to what others usually say, debating is more than an art. It’s passion.
Pua advises first-time debaters to learn to love what they do. “Speak messages, not just words. Inspire, don’t just convey. Win with honour, and make the game beautiful.”
From the Other Side
From a non-Lasallian perspective, Grace Kelly Ang, from the University of the Philippines Diliman (BA Comparative Literature), shares her thoughts.
Q: What is a debater?
A: I see no distinction between a ‘debater’ and a person with an opinion. I feel that anyone with an opinion and a willingness to share it and defend it with others can be considered a debater.
Q: In a nutshell, describe what debating means to you.
A: Debating is just the natural effect of having an opinion and meeting other people with a differing stand on the same issue. It’s not much different from arguments over the dinner table – the only difference is that you debate in a fancy suit.
Q: So… why debate?
A: Debating helped contribute to the development of my communication skills. It helped me learn how to effectively communicate my opinions to others by means of the spoken word, and helped my speech become more fluid and articulate. Beyond the purely communicative dimension, debate has also refined my abilities for analysis and has further improved my logical thinking. These abilities were forcibly improved only by the necessity of creating the arguments that would be the backbone of the debate; areas which I would never have sought to improve in high school had I never been a debater.
Q: Is it for everyone? Even those without formal training?
A: As opposed to say, a tertiary education or an entire library of books, debate is something the masses can do even with their limited resources. Every man who can think can express an opinion, and you don’t need to have a MacBook or college degree to have those. Intelligence isn’t measured by knowledge. Even the uneducated are capable of common sense.
Q: Do you think your debating skills can help you even after your debating days?
A: The first thing I should mention would be the oral communication skills I picked up in debating. Of all things I learned, these would have to be the most important and most valuable. I do not think I need to enumerate the ways a good background in communication can help everyone. The second would be the very important skill of analytical thinking. I have personally found that very helpful, especially when I write papers for school.
Q: What difficulties have you faced as a debater? How have you overcome them?
A: The biggest problem I encountered in debate was the articulation of arguments I think of on the fly. Delivering the prepared speeches are all well and good, but when rebutting the arguments of the opposition – well, that’s a different matter, especially when you have barely five minutes to listen to the argument, analyze it for weaknesses, and craft a response to destroy it. I took to simply writing my main points in bullet form instead of composing mini-speeches for my rebuttal, and it worked out pretty good, as far as I can tell.
Q: How would you advice those interested in the art of debate?
A: Ignorance is never acceptable for debaters. Before you start hammering out your points for argument, make sure you have your correct facts – and always remember that your ‘facts’ are only as good as your sources. Read – extensively and thoroughly, and always know your topic from both sides of the proposition.