As a teen I made an odd choice. I joined the debating club and I absolutely loved it. It was very competitive amongst team members and between schools. It was competitive sports for nerds. To win, you had to be a best listener, the most eloquent speaker and the fastest thinker.
I was a natural. I loved the rigid structure and rules. There were team debates and individual debates; I only liked the individuals.
Each debate began with the moderator stating a proposition. Then she or he would say: “Speaking for the affirmative is …” I loved speaking for the affirmative.
Speaking for the affirmative required a strong first “constructive” speech. After each affirmation the negative speaker would rebut; that pattern would repeat three times then the judge (or audience) would rule or vote on the outcome. Sometimes there were questions by jurors before a ruling.
Judges or jurors chose the propositions in inter-school competitions but in our club, propositions were chosen by our teacher sponsor, Mr. Taylor. Club members would propose propositions and we’d discuss them in club meetings. If your topic was chosen for the weekly debate, you would have the right of first refusal to participate in the debate or be a juror.
When my topics were selected, I always chose to be the affirmative speaker. The affirmative speaker speaks first and last. When I chose the topic and was the affirmative speaker, I was impossible to beat.
I’d prepare by writing sentences on pieces of paper and moving the papers around to find the purest line of logic. Once I had the path, I would work on the language. I’d choose my words carefully. My objective was to use as few as possible and as the most powerful available. My sentences were my weapons; the words were my ammunition.
In war there is an expression: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes.” In debating, it is not vision that matters, it’s listening that counts. In debating you have to thoroughly engage with your opponent to win; the best kill is with your opponents own words.
It was an odd choice, the debating club. But I could not be happier or prouder of myself for joining. It was a perfect fit and an ideal activity for someone who would become a technical writer for a career.
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