June 11, 2008

on the art of debate...

Today we had a class exercise that had to do with active listening. We had to break down into groups of threes and designate two people to be the ones conversing, and one person to be the observer. I find a group, sit down, and we proceed to read the ridiculously cryptic directions (I'm telling you, for a book on communications, it is seriously confusing). Anyway.

Apparently, two of us had to have a couple conversation for seven minutes on some of the designated subjects, while the observer took notes on how we communicated with each other. (Or something. Who really knows.) As I scanned the list of "acceptable" topics to speak about, I immediately began to sweat:

1. Nuclear energy. (You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.)
2. Gun control.
3. Political parties. (I get too much of my political knowledge from Steven Colbert, it's an issue, really.)
4. Immigration.
5. Death penalty.
6. Affirmative Action. (Is it bad that I had to Google this?)
7. Abortion. (Do we really want to touch this one? And for seven minutes?)

There were also a few more random, politically charged topics, and the last option was just a blank line. I toyed with the idea of filling that line with options such as:

1. Why the Kardashians shouldn't have their own TV show.
2. Cuteoverload.com and other websites that make life worth living.
3. The joys of Washington State: including, but not limited to, Seattle.
4. Season 1 of 30 Rock.
5. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
6. This textbook, and why it makes no sense.

But I bit my tongue and tried to act like a well-rounded college student. Because if I hadn't, I would've looked like a goober. And at that point in time, the curly-haired liberal in our group decided he was going to be the observer, which all of us wanted to be (obviously), and I decided I had no choice but to concede to be one of the speakers. The other was a sweet girl with a big smile who moved here from Africa.

Here's the thing with me: I am not a debater. I don't debate. The very thought of signing up for a debate class makes me want to punch a baby. For some reason, I am just not good at putting my thoughts into coherent arguments. I'll know what I want to say, but when I'm in the heat of the moment I end up looking like a confused, wishy-washy teenager - no matter how strong I feel about something. I walk away from the conversation with about seventeen different things that I should have said, wondering WHERE those words were when I needed them most. I'm just much, much better at expressing myself through writing. And now I, a religious girl with conservative values, was expected to have a mini-debate on some seriously intense subjects with a liberal guy, and a woman who grew up in a completely different country.

Our first topic? The death penalty. I'll save you the train wreck that was my choppy explanation on why I agree with it. My partner's response was that she doesn't agree with it, and she had a strong presentation, clear choice of words, and so on and so forth. After she presented, Liberal Guy turns to me and smiles, earnestly saying, "So, did she change your mind?"

What the hell. No, she didn't change my mind. I have two much-younger sisters, and I know in my heart that if something unspeakable happened to them that I would never, ever want to think that the person responsible had the "right" to live out his life when he ended the lives of two innocent children. (And it happens more than I like to think. I have a fascination with crime, which in turn, makes me paranoid. But, that's another story.) I'm not going to lie and be politically correct, when I know in my heart what I truly believe in. Even if I can't seem to express my thoughts in a semi-coherent way. I guess I was just irritated that he was all eager for me to agree with her, just because she was a better debater than I. (And apparently he agreed with her.)

The next topic? Abortion. Gah. Again, I couldn't get out the words that I wanted to say. It's even more difficult when I felt slightly attacked. "Well, what if someone is raped? Why should they have the eternal reminder?" "Well, what if it's a teenager?" "Well, what if religion prohibits you from taking birth control?" "Well, what if you know you can't provide for the child?" And so on and so forth. I seriously didn't sign up for a class in moral debates, and I seriously wanted to excuse myself and go outside to hang out with the herd of rabbits sitting calmly on the lawn.

After class, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's really frustrating for me, when I can't get my opinions or beliefs across in a way that others can understand or respect. It makes me feel like I don't have a strong grasp on why I believe what I do, when I know I do - I just can't get it out in the way people want to hear, I guess. And no, I don't have an answer for every, single "what if". Who does? Who? I can't explain away everything in the greatest detail.

Does anyone else find it difficult to express what they believe - and not only that, but back it up with reasons why exactly they believe it?

At least tomorrow class is going to consist of watching the movie When Harry Met Sally. That? That I can handle right now.


  1. This was me in my first Comm class. When we finally got to choose our own topics (after making speeches about the Kent State shooting and the 2004 election), I spoke about the importance of having a pet... because everyone loves pets.

    Liberal Guy needs to back off and understand your convictions are firm, regardless of whether or not he agrees.

  2. People like that liberal guy - give the rest of us liberals a bad name...

    I have a hard time expressing myself in debate-like situations...I calm up, stutter, and will inevitably start crying. It never fails - I cry. I grew up with an agressive debater - which lead to a lot of frustration. I'm fine if I'm on my own soap box with no one to argue or question - but my confidence ends when someone else starts talking.

    Wish I had some advise to give you...but I don't....except to ignore the liberal guy (they hate that :))

  3. I HATE debating. I’m a liberal in some ways, conservative in others – so no one agrees with my on everything.

    I often avoid talking about issues I know others don't agree with me about. I hate when people preach to me, unless I solicit their opinions (Case in point: My family. Love my parents, but dear GOD, my dad does NOT need to keep clipping out articles from the Wall Street Journal about how much Obama is like Hussein. Or why rich people need more money.)

    Sometimes I'm forced to debate, in which case my body heats up, my face turns red and I pray to start making some sense.

    Last year, in a debate about abortion in religion class - I stuttered a defense of my position, and the girl fired accusingly at me, "Well, have YOU known someone who had to have an abortion??"

    Unfortunately (or, fortunately?), I had, so I shut her up. Take that, aggressive debater.

  4. Most people automaticly shut down what I have to say when they learn the 'horrible' truth: that I'm republican.
    Note to the world: Just because I'm republican doesn't mean I LOVE George Bush!! Move on!
    So I do understand the stress of having people think you are a silly little girl with no coherent thought on something important. I work in a store where all my coworkers are liberal, so I keep my political opinions to myself. Don't let it get to you.

    If it makes you feel any better, when the dumb liberal kid gets on your shit, just smile and act like HE is the misinformed one. It'll hush him up real quick.

  5. That is me exactly. I am not a great speaker. I have a real problem forming my thoughts into intelligent sounding sentences, much less back up my ideas with evidence for why I believe them. What I'm trying to say is- I feel your pain.

    At least you'll have fun next class. When Harry Met Sally is a gerat movie!

  6. As you can see, you obviously are not alone. There's a lot of us out there that absolutely blow at debating (I know I do). Haha.

  7. I am becoming more and more convinced that you and I are very much the same person.

    I hate it when people who shout the loudest automatically think they are right.

    I feel you pain. I would have been out on the lawn with the rabbits waiting for you.

    Hang in there!

  8. This was semi-painful to read, but I am totally with you on every last word... I'm exactly the same way! It doesn't help that the people who disagree with the things I believe in (liberals) seemingly ALWAYS have those words and confidence I am lacking. I hardly ever see a conservative who is as loud and opinionated... is that just me?

    I loved all the advice everyone gave, but I can't get past what that guy said about it changing your mind! AH!

    Anyway, I'm sure you didn't come across looking as uninformed as you think... it's usually the ones who make a big scene that everyone thinks is the dumbass.

  9. You're quite hilarious: "I don't debate. The very thought of signing up for a debate class makes me want to punch a baby."

    Anyway, I don't believe in debate, either. Because you can speak clearly and articulately and have multiple reasonable arguments for your point of view all you want, but you're never going to change an intelligent person's mind. The same way Homegirl couldn't make you anti-death penalty. And, no matter how well you argued, you probably couldn't make Liberal Guy pro-life. That's the thing about beliefs-- when people have them, you can't change their minds. People believe what they want to believe. And everyone is entitled to their own individual beliefs. I guess that's why I'm against debating. Not because I get all nervous talking about Political Parties because I don't know anything about politics. (Although I do get nervous.) But more because I can't change people's minds about it. So why even bother arguing with someone when we can talk about something we agree on! Like the fact that Heidi from The Hills is fake and gross.

  10. Having never had to take a debate class, I can't say that I have first-hand experience, but I feel your pain. As a complete bleeding-heart liberal myself, I feel a little ashamed that the guy in your class felt the need to act superior and try to change your mind-- that is completely disrespectful of your beliefs, something that I'd like to think that everyone can be accepting of, even if we don't agree. Also, what is up with the debating of topics that are, no matter what, going to offend at least ONE person in the class? As everyone is (I assume) learning to debate, it's hard to be able to conduct these discussions without someone/everyone feeling attacked. No fair, class, no fair.

    Also, "makes me want to punch a baby"? Totally made me laugh out loud like a crazy person here at my desk.

  11. I, also a religious gal w/pretty darn conservative values, can't express how many times I've been in a situation frighteningly similar to the painful one in question.

    This has lead me to believe that:
    A.)I truly AM the martyr I once thought myself to be, during my early teens OR B.)art school exists primarily to force you into psychotically uncomfortable conversations, ultimately leading one to doubt the very fiber of their being.

    I know exactly what I believe, and can express it thoroughly...to my husband and dearest friends. Put me in a room of Mr.Liberal Blow-hards
    and I diminish, bumfuzzled and ever so slightly disgruntled. Without fail, in every critique/debate, I felt like a toddler...a 3 year old...with a few good words under her belt, trying desperately to express her dire situation to a roomful of otherwise occupied adults.

    Personally, I would have opted for Cuteoverload.com and other websites that make life worth living. So, that would've made two of us. You are NOT THE ONLY ONE.^__^

  12. why is When Harry Met Sally so commonly used in college courses? i saw it in class this past January. I think teachers just love the orgasm in the restaurant and wish they could be home watching porn but instead settle for When Harry Met Sally.

  13. Oh you just took me back to my freshman year of high school when I took a debate class. Our debate pretty much ended in him calling me a dumb cheerleader freshman that didn't know anything because I was a dumb cheerleader freshman and me calling him an ignorant bastard. (I've seen him recently, he still is.)

    I think next time you should challenge them to a Kardashian debate. I would take that in a hot minute!

  14. i hate debating also. even though my boyfriend may say otherwise. i just think you have to be able to debate with people that aren't going to ask if you've changed your mind whenever you say something.

    and i would definitely have voted for easier subjects too :)

  15. hah you are so me while I was in college.. but then Cale started college and found that he loved to debate. He will argue anything and everything. He throws out the What if's.. like they're candy. I think our last one was about abortion too.. whether or not the guy should have to consent because they were discussing that in his class. Sometimes I throw out super crazy ideas and it can be fun as long as you don't take everything too super serious.

    Though usually I get tired of the debate and end with "Well it's just stupid." as my final argument. lol. Or if we're discussing people "Well they're freaks. The end"

    If you can't tell.. I'm really good..

  16. Yikes! I'm sorry you had such an awkward time in class. And speaking as a Green party member/totally liberal gal -- I'm really sorry that the dude had the nerve to ask if she changed your mind. That would only have been OK if he would have asked the other girl if YOU changed her mind. I know what you mean about not being able to explain myself correctly. I hate it too! hmmm... Maybe you really did a fantastic job and the other girl who you thought did well was also over analyzing what she said and thought she did a bad job? That's so funny you watched When Harry Met Sally-- you'll have to tell us how that connects to the class.

  17. I cannot get my thoughts and feelings out in the open for others to understand either. I hate debates and I feel childish when I have one...which isn't often. But ask me to write it out, I'll write for days. And it just flows. Plus, I have the delete button!!! lol.

    Enjoy the movie. Sounds like a great way to spend class. :o)

  18. I mean, I can hold my own, that's for sure...but I don't think people really care or actually listen because they are going to stick to what they think. And you can't have an answer for EVERYTHING. I hate getting into those types of conversations, it's the same thing over and over again anyway.

    I'm definitely better at writing, and you have that going for you too. You may not be able to "debate" but you are really great at expressing yourself in other ways.

  19. P.S. I liked your topic ideas a lot better! :)


Thoughts? Questions? General musings? Do share!

If you are asking a question, I will respond here within the comments—so, be sure to click that handy little "notify me" box below to know when I've replied!