You may think of debates and debating in schools as a bit of dud. Depending on the regional style, two or more students argue for a proposition they may not agree with, and two more others argue against a proposition that they might agree with.

At the end of the day, no action is taken based on the outcome. What then, you may wonder, is the point? Well, there’s actually a whole lot of point.

No two people agree completely on things. You probably cannot find two people on the planet who hold the same opinions on everything.

As a result, if you participate in any organization or are a member of the workforce, you’re inevitably going to be involved with a group who holds differing opinions to you. At times (and perhaps much of the time) you will be their representative – that is, your actions and words will represent them to others.

Chances are statistically close to zero that you could find an organization where you’re in complete agreement with company policies at all times, and even then, the chances are slimmer still that you could score the luxury of working with them.

That means that ultimately, you’ll be working with an organization with whom you do not always agree (some of the time, or even much of the time). If you could change it so that it did always agree with you, then all your peers would be working with an organization that doesn’t always agree with them.

The debate teaches us to take a position that we may not agree with, and to faithfully represent it (with varying degrees of success). This is an important skill.

As a professional writer, I don’t necessarily agree with the opinions expressed in at least half of what I write. We kick things around the office, come to collective opinions, or I exercise the virtual shoe-leather, and get someone else to give me an opinion, which I then write down and expand on. So, I might not agree with the opinion I’m writing down, but I might not disagree either.

Quite frequently, the final opinion is a gallimaufry of the positions of others, as my own take rather longer to form. Do I have an opinion on the Openspaces/Homesteads thing? No. It’s far too early for me to have formed an opinion on such a complex issue, especially with not all of the facts in evidence. Others, however, are far faster to form opinions. As long as you’re being usefully informed and being given cause to consider or think about the information, does it really matter whose opinions they are?

School debates (frequently in your English class) are an excellent tool to sharpen your life skills for those times when you need to buckle down and do your job, regardless of your personal feelings. It’s not the only way to learn this, thankfully – otherwise we’d be bombarded with a hell of a lot more general rudeness in customer service – but it is one of the more effective methods.

Another thing they teach us is to separate the argument from the arguer. When two groups of reluctant girls or boys are randomly assigned to argue for or against “That Freudian principles should be a primary factor in lawmaking” or “That tiered tax systems should be replaced with a flat tax”, it’s obvious that the position has nothing to do with the person – an important thing to grasp, because later in life (as discussed above) you’ll be dealing with many people who do not necessarily personally hold the position they are required to represent.

Your attorney, your elected representative, your advocate, may not know you, or may not like you, but they’re supposed to represent you. It’s what they’ve agreed to do, and for that they need to listen to what you say and not what they may think about you as a person or about your views and ideologies, skin-color, sexual-orientation, politics, gender or religion.

Being unable to separate the person from the position is one of those strokes of immaturity that we hopefully (but regrettably do not always) grow out of over time. Most any child can argue a point more or less cogently, if you actually sit with them and let them do it.

Leave a bunch of children together with contrasting positions, however, and you’ve got a small, energetic natural disaster on your hands in short order. It’s all become very personal for them. They are unable to readily separate the speaker from the spoken, and all semblance of cogency is destroyed.

Few human activities, and even fewer educational activities, exist without cause. At a reluctant (and misunderstood) thirteen-year-old, you may not fully appreciate the skill-set that debates are intended to instill in you – few curricula are able to explain all of what their activities intend to teach, without consuming the time required to actually teach you; but if you’re lucky, you’ll acquire that knowledge anyway.



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