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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

From sophomore year when I was trying to decide about debating in college.

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For almost seven years I was involved in debate. In high school it was almost all that I thought about, I spent all possible waking hours involved in it, practicing speeches, rehearsing monologues, helping my team mates, just hanging out in the debate room, going to expensive camps over the summer. In college you skip class to prep, you stay up until all hours of the night, you wish you could live with your partner or team because that would be easier. For some debaters who have programs that offer scholarships, at least. I got burned out working 30 hours a week, going to school, and trying to be competitive. The long and short of it was that for me, debate was like a failing marriage, I wanted to love it, but I just didn’t anymore. If you know anything about the activity, then you know you had better be all in or just get out.
Debate is hyper-competitive. In athletics, interaction with the competition ends after the game, and you once again move into preparation mode, competition against yourself rather than someone else. In debate 4 out of 7 days of your week are spent with your team, at least three of those four are spent in competition. And the hours you catch in between rounds, the brief moments of humanity, are still spent talking about debate, with the other students you just competed against. You have to be friends with the people that you attempt to attack and destroy in rounds, because there is no one else. And even if there was someone else, it seems as though they never understand exactly what you do, the constant discussion of politics and policy, the talk of who did what in which round. Who is hooking up. Who is getting drunk. Who wins. Who loses. Who deserved to win. Who screwed some good team over. It surrounds every part of you, all the time. There is little escaping it. Not that one would want to.
Essentially, you are turned into a different person. You lose the ability to interact in normal society. I remember struggling to even have conversations with non-debaters like, oh, my parents, because they were not constantly thinking of another argument, or counter-argument, and the fact that I was means I just wasn’t listening. I suppose, equally, you lose the want to interact in normal society. It is because they don’t seems as smart as you. Their scope seems more narrow, and less important. They do not know as much about the world. They don’t talk fast and hard. They look at you like you are a crazy person when you do. At one point in time I could read thirty printed pages, out loud, in seven and a half minutes. Non-debaters don’t think of that as a skill, at the time debaters thought that was pretty awesome for a kid from Missouri. Parents get mad at the cool, calm, mouthy rhetorically advanced children the get back. Children get mad at their parents for emphasizing anything above debate. So in the end, it is easier to retreat into the society that debate has created for you, because the real challenge in debate is separating yourself from it.

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