The Lost Art


When I was in high school and college I was on the debate team. I could brag and say I was the captain and give you my list of trophies and awards but let’s skip that part and just say I was pretty good at it. For a while I kind of thought about being a lawyer or a politician because I like to argue, I love to tear an idea apart, look at it from every side, and then put it back together and see what’s left. I’m so grateful that my life included that experience because it really taught me a few things. The most important of which has got to be the ability to see the grass from both sides of the fence.

Ok, I don’t still keep all the trophies on my shelf like I used to. It was too much dusting for me! But I did keep the Golden Gavel. The kids think I used to be a judge!

Some people think debate is like what you see on TV in movies like Listen To Me, where you get this one amazing topic and you get to argue only one side of it and you get to make wonderful speeches and at the end the boy of your dreams grabs you and kisses you because your passionate rhetoric stirred his soul.  Hmmmm…. not really. You have 5 or 6 minutes to make your point. You need lots of facts and tons of philosophy (for Lincoln Douglas debate). The topics are never really about abortion or the death penalty, at least not in high school. The most current one around here was something like “RESOLVED: Access to drinking water ought to be valued as a human right instead of as a commodity.”

Here’s the thing, to be really good at debate, you’ve got to write the best possible affirmative case you can come up with, and then, you’ve got to find the negative case that can beat it, and then you use that to strengthen the holes you’ve found in your affirmative and you keep going like that until you think you can’t be beat on either side. In doing that over and over for so many years I learned the most valuable lesson in life. There are always two sides to every story, and truth lies within each one. Nine times out of ten I found myself believing in parts of both sides, and even when I had a case I couldn’t personally believe in, I found a way to see why others would hold those truths to be fundamental.

If I could teach kids today just one lesson, just one skill, it would be that ability to thoroughly examine both sides of every issue. I think kids have lost the capability to really and truly communicate, and partly because they are in constant communication. They have shallow conversations going on all day with their acronym text messages (wrud, brb, rbtl, wywh, btw, wtf, imho, fwiw, cya, ttyl) and they don’t really have those deep meaningful talks anymore. I have seen Blondie hang up with her boyfriend and tell him “text me” cuz she just didn’t know what to really say on the phone! She’d rather have 10 shallow conversations going on than fall into one good mind-boggling talk. I’ve tried to teach her about looking at the grass from both sides of the fence, but she just  pointed out that we don’t have any grass (thanks to a drought and a bunch of boys with dirt-bikes). It’s on my to-do list: plant grass so Blondie can see which side is greener!

People sometimes accuse me of sitting on the fence. I’m not on the fence, I know what I believe. What I believe is that we’d all be better off if we had to argue for the other side every once in a while. I call it the lost art of empathy. I don’t consider it a weakness on my part to look at another point of view, I consider it a strength. I’m not making excuses for the other side, I’m trying to understand them completely. Otherwise, how can I be so sure I’m right? It’s how I make peace with the imperfections in the world. It’s how I find my way to forgiveness when there are times I’d rather not forgive! I don’t think people possess empathy anymore. It’s why our government is a mess. It’s why so many marriages don’t survive. It’s why people delete each other from Facebook and pout about it for weeks. We aren’t truly willing to walk in someone else’s shoes. We’re scared of a few blisters!

Speaking of a government that is a mess, I can’t tell you how ironic I find it to be that in NY they are busy outlawing the Big Gulp (if you missed that rant, click here) and meanwhile in Chicago they are putting in cupcake ATM’s, complete with Sprinkles!! What will the lawmakers do next? Perhaps confectioner’s sugar will be rationed out like Sudafed! You’ll have to show your driver’s license and prove you haven’t bought it more than once this month.

Nothing’s worse than making delicious cupcakes
and watching the kids eat every last one!

Personally I’ve had to give up cupcakes and Big Gulps, but I didn’t do it because my city officials said I had to. I did it because I don’t wanna live my life in stretchy jeans. Which is exactly why my kids have got to go back to school, and fast! I realized when I looked at my vacation pictures that some of the weight I lost found it’s way back home. Noooo no no! We can’t be having that! So I’m back to salads and lemon water, which I actually love. The problem is that my house is full of kids who are inhaling pizza rolls and ramen noodle’s 24-7.  And they also think the Cupcake ATM is already available right here in their very own kitchen. The only problem is they aren’t putting any dollars in it….


3 responses »

  1. Nicely put. And now I believe you’re reading my mind since a similar topic was scritching at my brain the other day.

    Yes, I agree, kids these days are ignorant on how to argue, empathy and so on. But I believe it is our (societies/adults) fault. In schools we focus so much on memorization and rhetoric that we don’t teach our children how to think!

    And that’s my rant.

  2. So true! When I used to teach my sociology courses, we would discuss controversial topics that everyone had an opinion about. I would ask for a show of hands of the student who were on one side of the issue and then for a show of hand for students on the other side of it. Then I would set up a debate, assigning each group to argue the side that they were opposed to. It was always enlightening to see how they either changed their tunes or at least were willing to see the issue from another perspective other than their own.

    I really miss teaching!

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