A disclaimer – opinions in this article are solely personal, and should not be taken as “Brahma Satya”. I had done many things until my bachelor’s life, but none of them included a debate. TBC Debate Tournament was the first experience of its kind to my life, for the whole idea of the Debate was new to me. However, as I, with little knowledge on the topic, dove into that world, it blew me away, producing more than a few beautiful moments. I write this article with hope to inspire you to give a thought, and a shot, at a debate, and maybe a tournament. I firmly believe you should experience it at least once in your lifetime.
It would probably be best if I divided this article into four significant areas :
- How I felt before the debate tournament
- Short description of the BP (British Parliamentary) Debate Format
- How I felt during the debate tournament
- How I felt after the tournament ended
How I felt before the debate tournament
I cannot stress this enough. I had never taken part in any debate tournament before this one. And the interesting thing is that I never planned to take part in this one either. It was given to me as a choice, and I took it with trembling hands. I have been trying to develop a fearless mindset. And in hopes of doing that I joined a public speaking club (Smart Club) at the start of this month (Jan 2020). Smart club is a great place to learn and also grow while improving your public speaking. Public speaking sessions are held every Saturday after 8 am. So if you are reading this and want to improve your public speaking or just learn and connect with different people, then visit the page and join. (It’s practically free, and no they are not sponsoring me to write this)
Trying to develop a fearless mindset is difficult, to say the least. The core idea is to attack your fear instead of letting it belittle you into submission and giving up. So, I decided to take part in the tournament, because I was afraid of it. I did not know what the format was going to be before I raised my hand up. Although, I soon realized that I was about to dive deep into the depths of the pacific ocean with no gear. My word means everything to me, and because I had already said I would do it, I was not going to back out (although I did think about it a lot, I went as far as to want to run into the middle of the woods, build a home and hide there for the rest of my life).
Other than my word, there was yet another push. Earlier this year, on the first of January, I decided to come up with a goals list. And one of those goals was, doing one thing that scared me to my bones. And this was it. I was scared and afraid of all the uncertainty that this tournament would bring and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I kept thinking to myself that maybe…. maybe this time I may have taken on more than I can chew. (Like most things in life the reality was completely different and absolutely amazing) .
A short description of what the BP Debate format looks like
The BP (British Parliamentary ) debate format seems very daunting, and it is. I think this is the most complex and challenging debate format out there. The topic of the Debate is given 15 mins (and no this is not a typo, it’s actually minutes) before the Debate itself. You cannot choose sides; it is randomly assigned to you. There are four teams in total each one competing with one another. The proposition team (Government) has two teams and the same for the opposition. You are assigned to one of these four teams randomly. The team with the best argument and analysis wins the Debate. Who wins the Debate is decided By an adjudicator who will most likely be a very experienced debater themselves and Wait, there is more.
There are about three types of motions (the title of the Debate) that can come up. They are belief motions, policy motions or actor motions (I still have no fucking clue as to how to do this one). The title of the Debate is mostly about contemporary issues in the world. Topics such as climate change, religion, and so on. I know this probably makes less sense. But I can’t possibly explain everything here as this will be a very long article (which it already is) so check out this link if you want to know more.
This all seems very complicated, overwhelming, and scary, right. I know, hence the idea of building a house in the middle of the woods. But as I said above, I had already given my word so I couldn’t back out. Because backing out would have meant defeat and that is never an option for me. I was willing to fail and embarrass my self but never quit. For five days before the Debate, I could not sleep. I have never had a problem with insomnia, I have always been able to sleep well at night regardless of the stress or anxiety. But this time, I felt like I was way out of my element with no control whatsoever.
My own brain started to fuck with me. (“why are you doing this”, “there are no benefits to this”, “there are always other tournaments”, “you don’t have enough practice”, “you will not be able to speak in front of people”, “you will let your teammate down” and so on).
How I felt during the debate tournament
Note: We entered the tournament as novices, hence we debated with other novices. So it was a level playing field.
The uncertainty was scary in an of itself. And after seeing the demo debate,(where some of the best debaters of the country debated) . I was about to go insane. On the day of the first Debate, I couldn’t eat or sleep. I kept thinking that with all the stress, my brain will just shut off entirely after the motion is released. But a few interesting things happened. After the motion was released, my mind didn’t shut off like the way I thought it would. Instead, thoughts started pouring in.
The first motion was about religion and religious archetypes and whether or not they are good for people (concepts of heaven and hell and so on). I have been an atheist my whole life. So it was difficult to argue for religion. In a good debate, there is always a structure, “You make a claim, you give evidence for why that claim is true, and then you give reasons as to why it is important.” Obviously, I did not know how to form that structure (I still find it hard). So I miserably fucked up. But it did not go as horrible as I initially thought. We ranked 3rd in the first Debate and I was able to come off with ideas, form arguments but not in a way that proved a point (Sadly). And this theme continued throughout the tournament, although I did get a lot better as I gained more experience.
The second Debate was a lot better. I had to open this time as Prime Minister and I was able to form well-structured arguments (I think). The second motion was about whether or not capitalism and democracy are compatible with each other. I had to argue against capitalism which I will say was a lot easier than arguing for religion. We did well on that Debate and opened strong and ranked 2nd. Then we ranked 4th, 1st, and 3rd in the subsequent debates.
How I felt after the debate tournament
There were 3 Debates on the first day and 2 more on the second. I felt like I was improving after every Debate. I was able to think faster, generate arguments quickly. But I did mess up a lot.
Going in, I knew I was going to feel proud after the Debate ended. And I did. I used every ounce of my intellectual ability and was able to do better than I expected. I didn’t embarrass myself, and neither did my brain melt. I learned a lot and took a lot out of the experience. I Made a few good friends along the way which never hurts.
My only advantage (if you can call it an advantage) was that I have a habit of taking in a lot of information about various issues. And although I have a surface understanding of many of those issues, it helped. My partner, on the other hand, found it very difficult because he told me that he had never really focused on contemporary issues. So having Prior knowledge about many of the contemporary issues in the world can help; that is if you do decide to take part in a debate tournament.
There was another significant benefit to all this. My confidence in speaking probably grew 10 fold. My fluency in speaking English also improved drastically.
However, the good feelings went away very quickly after I attended the finals. I have always had a problem with feelings of inferiority. The demo debate was just as great if not better, but at the time I had no experience with debating, so I think it did not hit me as hard as it should have. But the final Debate was just amazing. Four teams, eight-speaker and all of them, brilliant in their presentation, delivery, and argumentation.
Although I have learned to use these feelings of inferiority to my advantage, to push myself and grow, it was hard. After I attended the final Debate, I felt like I was a nobody. This sent me back to when I was in 10th grade. How I felt after my SLC and During the start of my bachelor’s. Feeling like a nobody after class 10 and later in bachelor’s made me the person that I am today. And I am actually proud of who I am today.
That feeling of inferiority has always been a catalyst for me. Getting rid of that feeling of inferiority no matter how long it takes has always given me a sense of fulfilment. And I don’t think it is about the results. The process and the story is what matters to me the most. I was never born with any natural talent. I have worked very hard in the past 7 years or so, to learn everything that I know now. And I will keep doing that for the rest of my life.
I think critical thinking is an idea we casually throw around every time we sit down and do “research”. But I think I finally understand what critical thinking actually is. Often times, we get stuck with our own belief systems and never challenge them because challenging our beliefs is often scary. Say, if you believe in religion and god, it is really scary to challenge that belief. And I think the same goes for every other belief we have as human beings. We make inferences like, “Think from the perspective of others”, but do we really understand what this actually means.
I think we confuse this idea of thinking from the perspective of others with empathy and to a large extent, they are similar but not exact. Critical thinking, I believe, is actually understanding the Logic behind an idea or belief (which can be subjective but has to be tested against Logic). And it is also true that sometimes there is not a single answer to many of the things we believe.
Debate helps to stretch your mind to many extremes. It actually helps you to see things from someone else’s perspective. It helps you to understand that your belief systems are not rigid but flexible and forever changing. And that is the most valuable skill I took out of this tournament. I had realized this idea theoretically before, but now I think I can internalize it. And this is why I believe everyone should take part in at least one debate tournament in their lifetime. It shifts your way of thinking, forever. I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to the way I used to think and neither do I want to.
And I also found debating is one of those skills that you cannot acquire without experience. I mean experience counts in every field. But you can become somewhat of a semi-expert in many areas by just reading or practicing at home. But Debate is something that cannot be learned without experience. So do it, if you are anything like me then yes, you will feel horrified, but you will get through it and come out of it by becoming a better version of yourself. You will be able to understand your limitations and improve upon them. And isn’t that what we all want, to be the best version of ourselves.
A friend once said,
“Once you get into debating, there is no going back”.
And yes, I understand it now. And the same friend got me into this tournament in the first place. And for that, I will be forever grateful. Thank you “Sandhya” for all the encouragement and the push. I know you didn’t quote that but take it as a token of appreciation. And thank you for all the support.
Do not cheat, by that I mean do not use the internet during that preparation period of 15 minutes. You might be tempted to, but you really don’t need it. Facts do not win you debates, but Logic will. Debates like these are not about the amount of data you can throw around in 7 minutes but the Logic you provide to sway the adjudicator judgment into your favour. Force your brain to think. Speak for 2 minutes if you can’t find anything. Use the brain neurons you have, which are encased in your head and not the device in your pocket.
In the world we are living in, the internet has become a massive outsourcing agent for our brains. Check yourself the next time you get a difficult problem. How quickly do you go to google to search for a solution? I am not saying googling answers to problems is a bad thing. But too much of it can leave you impaired. We already talk about how “we don’t need to memorize anything because it’s all on the internet”. And I will admit that I have been guilty of thinking this way in the past. But that is entirely wrong and stupid. If every time you face a problem, your solution is google, then you will slowly lose the ability of thinking for yourself. But wait, it’s not permanent.
Push your brain to think for itself sometimes no matter how difficult the situation is. Next time you get a hard problem, use a timer. Give yourself 15 minutes to think and try to solve a difficult problem before using google search. And slowly, you can start to find a balance between using your brain and using the internet. That is why pushing yourself into these types of tournaments can be so helpful. First, it will help you realize your limitations. And then you can use that self-awareness to improve yourself.
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