Usually I talk here about debate, or speech, or related concerns. I don’t promise to make this a blog about such things, but since debate is my major outlet, it seems to fit.
Debate is also a useful shield sometimes; among debaters, one can talk about debate for a very long time, and never have to touch on anything else. It surprises outsiders, but we rarely talk about our own politics or the affairs of the world, much less more sensitive ground like religious belief or our own views of the ethics and morals we toss around casually. Debate encourages distance and dispassion from the topics we tackle; bringing our own ideas into a debate discussion, even between rounds, may feel too much like judge intervention to us. We don’t really argue much with each other, not nearly as much as outsiders expect.
The other counter-intuitive thing about debaters is that the average debater is an introvert. There are spectacular exceptions, of course — cough cough Cruz cough — but the typical debater is a rather quiet kid who thinks intensely and can deliver a great speech, but fundamentally keeps her own worries and own life to herself. And this typical debater grows up to be a typical coach, the same introvert, whose talk about herself is further limited by the quelling presence of minors we’re here to educate. Revealing personal thoughts and events inevitably exposes weaknesses, and we’re encouraged implicitly to maintain our infallible sheen of perfect authority with the debaters under our care.
I’m no great exception to any of these rules. I joined speech and debate because I knew a lot about the world, politics, events, history. I joined speech and debate also because various people dragged me into both. And finally I joined speech and debate because I was absolutely terrified of speaking in public. One of the few wise things I knew when I was an otherwise pretty stupid teenager was that the purpose of education is to address your weaknesses, not to showcase your strengths. That of course runs contrary to the kind of education a lot of teenagers strive for — and a lot of parents want for them, too. But we’re all permitted a few unique insights in life, and that was one of mine.
However, our veils of ignorance are imperfect at best; concealed moods and private reality bleed through. We don’t address either particularly well in debate. We commune in loud silence, covering our refusal to talk by talking too much: talking about the best link turn to that politics disad or the way overused debate theory in LD makes everyone want to never judge a round again. We have rich full lives with sudden joys and deep problems, but it only shows through, confusingly without a hint as to its origin, in a particularly vehement bashing of PF.
I’m guilty of all these sins, to some extent or another. I’ve not lived in perfect concealment; a fair number of debate denizens know something of what goes on beyond the tab room for me. But a much wider circle has been in the dark for over a year now. I’ve dropped a lot of soft responsibilities this year — the ones that accumulate from tradition, the logic being that if you did a job last year you will again this year. These soft responsibilities can be very hard on those of us who don’t teach or hold official title. I know there’s a fair number of folks out there who think I’ve abandoned and left them behind — and no I’m not talking about anyone specifically, since there are many diverse groups under this heading. However, I’ve always been careful to not be committed or promised on an ongoing basis to much. I simply ask that people try to recall what I’ve actually promised, and try to recall what you’ve asked, when you catalog my sins.
I’ve also dropped a small number of things I actually did promise and commit to, trying my best to hand them off in a responsible and sustainable manner where I can, and where it was welcomed. For instance, I’m not going to Princeton this year, and I’m not in charge of Columbia, though both are in good hands.
Why? Well, more on that in the next post.