Monday, May 5, 2014

Debating to Build Mental Strength: Part Three

by Dr. Sarah T. Partlow Lefevre


In part one and part two of this series, I introduced an article written by Paul Hudson called 20 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.  Upon initially reading the article, I noticed that many of the characteristics of mental strength could be developed through the practice of debate.  Debate is an activity that promotes dialectic and argumentative interaction while accepting disagreement.  The structure of debate lends itself to developing mental strength and healthy life perspective.  In part three, I examine Hudsons’s suggestions 11-15 rephrasing them as affirmative practices in the context of competitive debate.  Hudson’s things that mentally strong people don’t do are:
            11. Trying To Please People
12. Blaming Themselves For Things Outside Their Control
13. Being Impatient
14. Being Misunderstood
15. Feeling Like You’re Owed
Because debate is a training ground, I rephrase each as an aspect of debate that can develop mental strength.

                11. Debaters recognize when they’ve done their best regardless of the results.
While the structure of debate asks debaters to please the judge, mentally strong debaters also must do their best and accept that there are some results that rest outside of their control.  Because the judge is a human being and--by nature--imperfect, the very best performance might not yield a victory.  Mentally strong debaters recognize that the decision making process is also about the judge – their thoughts and predispositions, their moods, or even their human foibles.  A mentally strong debater understands that strategy in debate is about more than a virtuoso performance – it is also about adapting to the judge.  Additionally, a strong debater recognizes that doing one’s best doesn’t always mean marking a win on the results sheet.  Even in these cases, a strong debater is proud of doing his or her best. 

                12. Debaters recognize that there are some things they cannot control.
Debate is a game of control.  If debaters can control the variables, they are more likely to win.  However, even in such an intricate and strategic game, there are elements of chance.  Mentally strong debaters know this.  They recognize that they might draw tough opponents, fail to find the best evidence, run out of time in their speeches, make a mistake, or end up disagreeing with a judge.  Debaters learn that this is inevitable in debate and in life.  Debaters learn from experience that their control is not absolute.  This means they must do their best and recognize that some factors are not within the realm of their control.  Letting go of the notion that total control of the situation is possible frees debaters to be their best.  Win or lose, they must learn not to blame themselves and by extension not to blame the judge –a fellow human being.

                13.  Debaters learn that persistence and hard work produce dividends.
Many people who start debating do not ever succeed because they are not persistent.  If individuals begin debate and do not persist, they may not experience the benefits of debate.  Like many things that are worth doing, debate requires hard work over a sustained period of time.  But, the rewards that come from sticking with it go far beyond trophies.  Debaters experience personal growth and transformation.  They develop life skills and analytic skills in a dynamic environment.  Sometimes the process hurts.  Mentally strong debaters learn to embrace the adversity as a method of intellectual and personal growth.  Debaters who stick with it develop amazing analytic skills and begin to win.  But, often winning takes time.

                14.  Debaters recognize that they are responsible for crafting and refining the messages that they communicate.
Mentally strong debaters understand that they are responsible for what they communicate to the judge.  Debate is a process of persuading the judge as a specific audience in a dialectical environment.  In that sense, the judge has a particular set of life experiences, debate experience, academic knowledge, debate knowledge, and different preferences that may all influence his or her response to the round.  Strong debaters seek to understand the perspectives of the judge rather than to blame the judge for voting against them.  For those who are not mentally strong, every debate victory is about their skill as debaters while every loss is about the stupidity of the judge.  Mentally strong debaters recognize the possibility that they might be wrong in any given debate.  Recognizing their potential weaknesses allows debaters to identify flaws in their communication and to remedy them.  Fundamentally, it is a debater’s responsibility to communicate clearly and persuasively.

                15.  Debaters know they must earn their success.
Mentally strong debaters recognize that debate doesn’t owe them anything but offers many things.  Participation in debate builds research skills, the ability to understand and process complex material, strategic thinking, speaking skills, and many other benefits.  Mentally strong debaters understand that each of these benefits is multiplied through hard work and practice.  Expecting to have success handed to you leads to disappointment in debate and in life.  Often, debaters develop mental strength as they learn to thrive on the challenge and to hone their debate skills.  Accepting that rewards are earned serves debaters well throughout their lives.

I hope you are enjoying the series.  Feel free to comment or make suggestions. Part four is coming soon.