On Being a Debater (Without an Opinion)

by kangcuzzi

Up to this point, I have spent five good years dabbling in the art/sport/(cult?) of debate. 

But what does that mean for me? Well, on the first layer of analysis – check out this debater lingo! – debate has equipped me with skills in public speaking and critical thinking that I otherwise wouldn’t have gained. It’s a clichéd argument, yes, but there’s really no other way to phrase it. Debate is one of those activities in which you have to participate and contribute, regardless of how you feel. As part of a team, you have to be devoted in building the case, developing the arguments, and, of course, presenting it. You are guaranteed a certain number of minutes – or more, if you remain active – to use as your time, to use your words to execute your ideas. I think this facet of debating lends its practitioners a feeling of responsibility and self-reliance when it comes to situations in which they can share their ideas. Thanks to debate, I feel significantly more confident in getting up in unexpected situations and delivering a spiel of words that, surprisingly, sounds pretty good. I also believe that the consciousness surrounding the fact that my thoughts can inflict change has, for me, developed a sense of identity: now, I like to speak up on behalf of what I feel needs to be talked about, and oftentimes I feel a necessity to speak up for how I feel because I want to be a part of the global (or local, or classroom-sized) forum of ideas that constitute the lining of our world. I can also fixate myself upon said arguments more attentively, de-construct and digest them at a quicker pace, leaving me more time to construct my own responses.

In other, less technical senses, debate has allowed me to also meet people from all across the world and expand my world view. Through competing in countries such as Singapore, Turkey and Lithuania, with competitors from countries ranging from South Africa to Cyprus, I’ve learnt about the little things that differentiate debaters from one country with debaters from another. I’ve learnt about their traditions, their perks, their ways of thinking and analyzing, and I’ve seen how this all relates back to their country of origin – for example, the incredibly structured and strong style of Singapore reflects the sense of order that exists within the country. I’ve also learnt about fellow debaters as people, as individuals, and with many I have created friendships that will last for a long time. Of course, on the idea of ‘world view’, learning about topics I would otherwise not have taken the initiative to learn about – with financial literacy and the criterion of the Eurozone among them – has also expanded my understanding of the world and has helped me in numerous conversations. 

So where does that leave me? Well, pretty much in the same position as almost every other debater who has reached this stage in their careers. 

But recently, I’ve begun to learn and come to terms with something about myself that may seem a little… unlikely for a debater. I’m not saying that I’m the exception, because I’m sure many debaters have found themselves in the same position. 

And what is ‘thing’ that I’m talking about?

None other than the fact that the majority of the time, I remain unopinionated about topics others prefer to be polarized about. (By ‘topics’, I’m talking about current affairs or hot issues of contention, such as topics on GMO, conflicts, politics etc, topics I personally don’t feel too connected to. When it comes to things that bother me personally, such as how journalism should work, for example, then I take a strong stance. Maybe more on that next time.) There have been cases in which people have discussed an issue and I remained silent, listening to both sides and agreeing/disagreeing with both – and I couldn’t bring myself to ‘choose’ a side, which is never a necessity but is a ‘state of being’ many people encourage in such scenarios.

And I see why this may be the case. As I mentioned earlier, debating is something that instills within debaters the ability to think critically about any issue, and this involves the ability to see a topic through the lenses of both sides. Every argument – every single one – has multiple sides to it, and to me it’s unfair to pick just one and dogmatically stand behind it when one recognizes the validity in another. We wouldn’t be as diverse if it weren’t for this paradigm of having two sides to everything, right? We wouldn’t be able to have a debate in the first place. 

Anyhow, one may think that this severely limits my ability to debate or generally be an interesting person. But I’d like to object to that. Why? In debate, it is necessary to see the sense in the other side and try to find the little arguments you could then tie back into yours. As people in general, too, superfluous conflicts can easily be avoided and made into good, strong discussion if one is more open to a general topic. I’m not a fan of conflict, which is another paradox when it comes to debating. But let me explain. I dislike the kinds of petty conflicts where people argue about things they haven’t fully researched into, leaving them in a yippy-yappy tail-chasing circling kind of argument that only ends with red faces and short breaths (and failed friendships, too). But I like conflict in a formalized platform – such as in a debate – where the individuals know how to concede, how to build on from one another and at the end of it all, shake hands. Maybe the latter is a consequence of the former, or the former of the latter… I’m still trying to figure that out.

Anyways, at the end of the day – another debater term, bingo! – I like being the way I am. At times I used to feel pretty worthless at times because I thought my opinions had no weight to them. But now, I’ve grown to accept who I am and how I think. Being able to see both sides in equal balance is a gift, because only when compromises are made can solutions be found. Because a debate isn’t won solely by the original arguments of a single team; it is won by the team that has engaged the most, has made the right number of concessions to improve their own case, and has interacted in a way that is beneficial in progressing the debate. This applies to life as well. Being able to free myself from the heated cage of one-mind(ism) and enter the realm of being able to see the bigger picture has really allowed me to take myself further, day by day.

And in a world ridden with contradictions and confusions, sometimes this approach might be a good one to take.

(Note: It’s really hard to write these kinds of articles without hinting upon hypocrisy or not going in-depth about certain things, etc, etc. Especially as a 16 year old whose constantly buzzing mind cannot sit still on a blog post for long, I might have left some things out that would have bettered my explanations of my ideas, and thoughts. Just to let you know.)

(Disclaimer: this post is in no way insinuating that being opinionated is bad, or that being opinionated means one cannot make compromises. That’d be a black and white argument in itself, and this is the type of argument I try to avoid.)