By Sophia David ’21, Features Reporter
Everything you do influences the way you do everything else. Perhaps this concept is best shown through our school’s acclaimed Debate Team. At first glance, debate is an educational extracurricular activity, and there are some obvious skills that students who participate in the program develop, such as public speaking and critical thinking. However, a deeper look into debate reveals the impact, for good or for bad, that it has on other activities and everyday life.
Harper Will ‘21, a Debate Team member, noted that arguments in the club frequently result in “screaming matches” or incoherent words fueled by emotion. She has found that this has helped her learn “how to remain calm when people disagree” with her. It is easy for people to become so impassioned by a desire to get their way that they lose the logical aspects of their argument. This does not help people win arguments, but instead, makes them appear as immature and irrational. Jade Halpern ’20, another debate participant, added, “[Debating] makes you realize that not everyone you disagree with is a terrible person.” Anna Volp ‘20 shared, “I think I have become more indecisive because whenever I’m about to make a decision, I always think about something that counters the decision.”
Unlike the other members of the debate team, Ryan Jokelson ‘21 did not find that debating had any impact at all on his methods of arguing. He explained that he has always loved to argue, and said, “I argued a lot with people before I was doing debate. My dad and my uncle and my grandpa are all lawyers so growing up we would argue about stuff all the time.” He explained that debate is simply a good outlet for his argumentative nature. Rather than debate altering his everyday arguments, his everyday arguments are what have made him such a strong debater.
In my conversations with the members of the Debate Team, I discovered another key benefit: participants learn how to listen to and even empathize with the opposing viewpoint. In a community such as Friends’ Central where the majority of people have similar political and social views, it is often the case that people simply agree with each other. While it is wonderful to hear everyone’s thoughts and ideas, they are, for the most part, similar regarding major political issues. This gives students at Friends’ Central few opportunities to hear multiple sides or angles of an argument. In contrast to the general environment at FCS, students on the Debate Team regularly engage in discussions that force them to argue both sides of an argument, regardless of their own personal beliefs.
Examples of topics with which Debate Team grapples include whether NCAA athletes should be considered employees, or whether the two-party political system is beneficial for America. Before beginning research, debaters may have strong opinions on the topic; however, by the end, they may be completely unsure of what they personally believe is best. This is because when preparing for a debate, where opposing positions will have to be argued, students are required to read extremely liberal and extremely conservative news sources. This does not mean that preparation for a debate always has this neutralizing effect. Sometimes, preparation for a debate can solidify personal opinions or even change them entirely.
This exposure to multiple viewpoints calls into question why we believe the things we believe. We tend to be positive that our beliefs are correct, and we are often even able to give an extensive list of reasons why we are right. However, this could be attributed to a lack of exposure to other viewpoints and the media sources that represent them. Lindsay Schweitzer ‘20 explained, “Debate strengthens our own beliefs because it forces us to see where others are coming from.” In other words, debate teaches students that in order to formulate an informed opinion, people must familiarize themselves with all the possible extremes of an argument and everything in between.
In addition to changing one’s thought process and formulation of arguments, debate changes the way in which one expresses these arguments. Four out of the five students interviewed agreed that being part of the Debate Team drastically improves the way they argue in their everyday lives. As teenagers, arguments with parents, friends, and acquaintances are common occurrences. Debate Team not only strengthens arguing abilities and tactics, but also changes the way in which people view arguments.
This same concept can be applied to opponents in an argument. It is easy to view these people as the “enemies” and even begin to dislike them as people. However, in a debate, no one can choose their side, and this means that the things people say do not necessarily reflect what they actually believe.
Overall, the effect of debate can be seen in areas outside of the club such as how students view topics, question beliefs, and argue with others.