“Debate is life” is a phrase that most debaters are all too familiar with. It exemplifies the idea that debating isn’t just an after-school activity that you partake in and occasionally go to tournaments, but that it is a community and, more importantly, a lifestyle that can fundamentally change who you are and how you view the world for the better. Debating for me has been a mix of the usual rigorous preparation of cases with my teammates in order to have incredible and engaging debates with other teams during tournaments, but it has also been about being part of and building up the debating community in my own country; both on national and school levels. This essay is dedicated to exploring the personal growth I have gone through as both a debater and a coach, what role I believe debating holds in our society and what opportunities debating has opened up for me.
First of all, to understand the magnitude of the growth I have gone through, it is important to know some details about the background that I have come from. About the time that I joined our school’s brand new debate club (around 2 years ago now) I had just freshly escaped the grasps of a religious fundamentalist cult by the name of “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. My dad joined the cult first and later brought me in as well, sometime around middle school. Debating came at a time when I was looking for an outlet to utilise my newly acquired critical thinking skills. It not only allowed them to flourish but also helped me to let go of my anger and resentment towards the topic of religion and analyse it coldly and objectively, just like I would any other topic while doing research to build a case. Perhaps more than anything, it gave me a community of not necessarily like-minded people, but critically thinking people who made no bones about challenging my beliefs and engaging in productive discourse. After years of intellectual repression, indoctrination and being surrounded by people who never dared to question their own beliefs, it was just what I needed.
If debating has taught me anything during these past 2 years, is that there are no perfect arguments and that there are great cases to be made for and against most issues. In fact, it’s one of the hardest truths debaters have to face, knowing that someone can still poke holes in what you perceive to be your bulletproof case. Debating is a truly humbling experience because it makes a person realise just how much more there is to learn and how difficult it really is to make nearly impenetrable arguments. Even my own arguments against religious fundamentalism needed some polishing, which irritated me to no end, but in time, instead of getting upset, I actually did polish them.
Furthermore, debating makes one look at a problem through various angles that they might not have considered before, due to the fact that if you decide to go with more generic and expected arguments, your opponents are going to be prepared to refute them beforehand (if they’re good, that is), which means that a unique approach brings more benefit to your side. In a world where creativity and outside-the-box thinking are more sought after than ever, it is surely a useful skill to have at your disposal.
It’s no secret to anyone that debating opens up many doors for people pursuing higher education or just making themselves more competitive on the job market. We know the stories of people whose incredible debating careers were the major contributing factor to their enrolment at a prestigious university. However, while that may be nice and while I may look forward to reaping the benefits of my own debating career at some point in the future, being a more marketable individual is not the end goal for me. What I would like more than anything else is to pass on the knowledge I have gained through and about debating to other people who are perhaps at similar points in life as I was when I started my journey. Believing that debate education is not only a means to an end but an end in and of itself drives me to want to become a debating coach and to continue working with our school’s debate club, which I helped create, and to build mutually beneficial relationships with other clubs across Lithuania. Our club has already achieved so much in the rather short time since its conception and it has a lot more growing to do in the foreseeable future. Debating has given me the confidence, public speaking skills and knowledge to make my coaching dream a reality and to effectively pass on my gained knowledge to anyone who would join our debate club. In fact, it has even motivated me to pursue a career in education and to become a teacher whose actual passion is to teach.
If there’s one message I would like the reader to take away from this essay, it would probably be the message in the very beginning: debating is a lifestyle that can change you for the better. The tangible merits of debating are numerous, but none are as important as being able to think freely and to be able to articulate your ideas in a way that can be later used in productive discourse. Because for long-time debaters it’s simply not enough to think of new and interesting ideas, they need someone to challenge these ideas and to see if they stand up to scrutiny or not. And when these ideas don’t hold up, I would like to believe that debaters have enough humility to follow the evidence and change their views accordingly. For me, it has been quite a harsh, but rewarding process and that’s exactly why I keep repeating it as I learn more. I debate, therefore, I am.
Karolis Zeniauskas is from Lithuania and he is the winner of the International Essay Contest “Debate changed my life” in the in the Tertiary Education Category. Karolis was awarded in the European Parliament by MEP Brando Benifei during the Roundtable "From debate education towards youth engagement".
The International Essay Contest “Debate changed my life” was an activity within the framework of IDEA NL’s “Debate changes your life” campaign co-founded by Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union.