Friday, March 29, 2013

You Blew It!! I am Going to Slice and Dice You...

Yesterday I judged at a UIL Lincoln Douglas Debate Competition in rural Brock, Texas. I thought my debate coaching and judging days were over after Daniel graduated from high school, but that is not to be the case apparently.  Yesterday there were several matches where an experienced high school debater was paired with a student that possessed little or no experience in a tournament setting. It could have been the equivalent of me going up against Tiger Woods in match play competition on the golf course. But that is not what unfolded yesterday.

I judged two rounds where highly competent high school debaters chose to reach out to their opponent in the mindset of a peer mentor. They still argued their case. They accomplished all of the objectives that are necessary for winning the round. But in the process, they chose to reach out to their struggling opponent instead of plowing over that person.

In terms of the rules of engagement in UIL Lincoln Douglas Debate, they could have shredded their rival intellectually by harping on every single dropped argument and by spending the remainder of their speaking time reinforcing their debate case from every possible angle.  There are a lot of ways they could have sliced and diced their challenger, and still have been well within the rules of the contest.  But in the case of two debaters I heard, that did not occur. They covered the necessary bases and then spent the remainder of their speaking time extending a helping hand.

What about us? What can we learn from these bright high school students? We are exposed to people on a pretty consistent basis that find themselves in a position of vulnerability. They have blown it. They are not prepared. They are the new kids on the block so to speak. They have a lot to learn.  In some situations, they have brought trouble on themselves by doing really thoughtless things.

What are we going to do?  I suppose we are well within the “rules” of life to point out their flaws. We can all too eagerly show them their failures. And we can launch into lengthy diatribes regarding the “right” way to do it. We can tell them what “sinners” they are. The possibilities really are limitless. But I think I saw a better way yesterday.  Highly skilled high school debaters from rural Texas schools reminded me of an important life lesson.

The expression of true compassion occurs when we are well within the “rules” to point out someone else’s flaws to them. But we choose instead to reach out. We commit to kindness and empathy. We choose to mentor instead of steam rolling someone. We don’t abuse the positional authority that has given to us for a brief moment.  And somewhere in the process, a vulnerable person is not plowed over. I believe that is a good thing.  Go easy on me Tiger. I could use some coaching on the golf course. 

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