On debating

I really never wanted to join the university debate club. I just wanted to go to IKEA. No, actually, that’s how it happened.

And yet, I’ve spent three of the last four weekends at debate tournaments, and almost all of my friends in university belong to debate. We literally go to other universities, stand in rooms, and talk for hours. And then we do it again the next day. With this in mind, I think it’s very valid to ask, how the hell did this happen? What the hell am I doing with my life? Let me explain.

I met Lena (I asked her which character she related with in the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and she picked Lena, so that’s now her name) because she lived down the hall from me in residence. My first impression of her was that she was a bit too much a try hard, with her tailored blazers and little pencil skirts. Like geez, this is a dorm, not the UN. She was fun to talk to  though, and frankly, I had met very few people on my floor who I actually wanted to hang out with. Most of the rest were engineering students who alternated between doing physics, playing video games, and watching hockey, which are basically my three least favourite things.

So when Lena invited me to go on this special student shuttle to IKEA one night a couple weeks into school, I was down. I figured it would at least be something to do. The hitch was that Lena had to make a detour before we left. She promised it wouldn’t take more than an hour, she just had to go to this meeting thing.

Sure, I thought. I didn’t really have anything better to do. It was the second week of university so I didn’t really even have homework yet.

The “meeting thing” turned out to be a debate club meeting, and Lena, it turned out, was on the Canadian national team for high school debate. In other words, she was kind of a big deal in the debate community. When she showed up at the meeting members of the club already knew who she was.

I found all of this news mildly bemusing. I thought it was funny that there was a “debate community” and a national team and everything. I mean seriously, it’s just people arguing. How intense could it really be?

Super intense, as it turned out. At the meeting, the senior members did a demo round to show what debate was like in university. Not only was it intense, but it was also really interesting, and smart and…entertaining. I never would have seen that coming. What honestly drew me in was that all the debaters just looked like they were having such a good time. There they were, standing up talking about smart things, but also adding in jokes and good natured teasing. The debate I saw was about whether a total surveillance state was a good idea, and the debaters made jokes about their rights to watch BDSM porn in the privacy of their own home. They actually had the whole room laughing by the end.

When we left to go to IKEA, Lena told me straight up that she wouldn’t be offended if I told her I thought it was stupid. She said she new debating was kind of a ridiculous use of her time, but that it was something she had done for a really long time and she personally enjoyed it. I think I shocked her when I said that I was interested in going to the next meeting.

It just kind of snowballed from there. I went to the next meeting, then to a full day training session for beginners, then to one tournament, then another. At this point I think I’ve spent about a quarter of my weekends in university at debate tournaments.

It’s worth noting that not only am I not very good at debating, but I also don’t particularly care about becoming any good. For me it’s just about being around people who want to talk about important issues. The way one debate friend described it was that debaters don’t just talk about the “whats” in life-what you want to do, what you like, what you want to be-but also the “whys.” Debate is about calling your beliefs into question; you have to justify your choices and your reasoning. We don’t just talk like that in debates, but outside of them too.

I think the idea of thinking “whys” appeals to me because I’ve always thought like that. It’s a characteristic that shows in my writing, especially in this blog. I tend to write about something that happened, then how I feel about it, then speculate as to why I feel that way. What’s cool is that now I have a group of friends to talk like this with, instead of just turning over these thoughts in my own brain.

I’ve become close with four girls in debate, all first years.  What’s funny is even though I’ve only known them for a few months, I already feel as close to them as I do with friends I’ve known for years. Maybe it’s because residence forces people to become close. Maybe it’s because we’ve already spent so many weekends together for debate. Maybe it’s just the massive amount of wine we consume together. Whatever the reason, I’ve found people I belong with here. That’s a pretty special thing.

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3 thoughts on “On debating

  1. So wonderful that you feel like you fit in so well!! I was a debate judge for the high school debates in Greece, and you’re right. They are SO intense! I would also be extremely terrible at it ^.^

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