The​ ​Dilemma​ ​of​ ​a​ ​Debater’s​ ​Moral Integrity

What would you do to win? How far would you go to get what you want? This is a question I often ask myself, mostly because of the sport of debate, which I have been taking in school for a year so far. The main reason that debate makes me think of how far I would go to win is my specific forte of debate, which is congressional debate. Congressional debate is simple. You get a bill or resolution to respond to in pro or con. But, the problem is, you have an advantage if you go first because the judges hear your opinion first, and this means that you’ll find yourself putting away your own opinions and ideas in order to win. If you want to have an advantage in congressional debate, you will have to put aside your personal viewpoints.

In congressional debate, if there is an author of a bill or resolution present, they will speak first, in pro of said bill or resolution. If the author is not present, a representative of the bill or resolution will speak on its behalf and is forced to speak in pro. There is then a limited questioning period, and from there on, a trade-off of pro and con and questioning. Moral tension is created when you choose to have the advantage of arguing first, while having to argue pro, because you will have to sacrifice your own views, whether you believe in pro or con for a matter.

Congressional debate is less about the topics discussed and more about the form in which you debate them. In congressional debate, you get the date of an upcoming debate. You get an official list of topics at varying times. Then, you have time to prepare and have the option to submit a bill or resolution. A bill states laws to be put in place. A resolution is a bill in response to another bill or event that has happened. As the word suggests, you are resolving the problem. Though that’s how typical congressional debate works, humanity’s usage of congressional debate roots back as old as time, even in its most primitive state. And I don’t just mean two cavemen arguing over a piece of meat. Looking at the roots of the word starting with congressional, according to, “congressional means of or relating to Congress.” In Congress, people argue over bills and resolutions, just like in congressional debate. Now, according to, the standard definition of debate is “a formal discussion on a particular topic in a public meeting or legislative assembly, in which opposing arguments are put forward.” Debate can be contextualized as either a sport or humanistic inquiry, and it is the contextualization that makes all the difference.

The point is, the deeper you get pulled into debate as a sport, the less of what you’re saying matters and the more of winning the debate matters. Soon, winning becomes all you care about, having been pulled into the highly addictive sport of debate. In contrast, contextualizing debate as a form of human inquiry is about the search for justice. However, when debating as a sport, it doesn’t matter how you debate, what you debate, or why you debate. In the sport of debate, only one thing matters, and it’s winning.

I was at my first congressional debate tournament. I’d had two weeks to prepare a speech that was either pro or con to the impeachment of Donald Trump. My personal viewpoint is that by all means, he should be impeached because of the many outrageous claims he’s made and the countless acts of torment and bullying he’s committed via social media. The debate starts out fast. You barely have enough time to prepare before they read out the topic.

From there, they asked the dreaded question, “Is the author of this topic present, or would a representative like to speak pro on behalf of the topic?” The room turns quiet, and eyes dart around the room nervously.

“Come on, guys, we need to continue…” Sure, it’s a simple enough side to debate. You know that if you really needed to debate it, you could. So then, why is it so hard to agree to debating the topic? For one, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. There are many variables that play into the situation, like the risks, why you want to do it, or even how you want to do it. We all feel entitled to our own views and opinions.

In the 21st century, nothing is more important than your opinion. Think about it. This year’s election has been almost entirely based on dominating public opinion because ranting on social media can have a surprisingly strong effect on popularity. When you have services literally built for stating your opinions, you’ll start to, well, think everyone, and I mean anyone and everyone, cares about your opinion. We are being fed by the media that our opinion matters, but it is only the manipulation of our opinion that really matters. We soon figure out that day to day, our opinion does not matter in reality. Because of our ceaseless egos, despite the triviality of our opinions, we hold our opinions very dear. And in the end, should we push our opinions away just to win? We shouldn’t, because our opinions are our integrity.

Before debate, I was, to put it lightly, very argumentative. And when I first discovered debate, I was excited. Finally, a sport I could win by arguing! It was the end of the year, but there was still time to participate in one debate. Novice congressional. Now at the time, I had no idea what that was, and I wouldn’t have without the help of my debate teacher, Jim Shapiro. So with one week of preparation and a poorly written speech, I went to my first debate. And I rocked it. Question after question, the battleground became clearer and clearer to me. All you had to do was to state your claim, interrogate your opponent, and act like you know what you’re doing, and you’ve pretty much won the debate. Plus, it didn’t hurt that everyone else was new to debate also. So, I was plowing down questions when the judge stated the final question: should Donald J. Trump be impeached?

We are back at the pivotal moment, the crossroads between my moral integrity and my egotism for winning. The crossroads between sport and humanistic inquiry. Now before I continue, I want to make something very clear. I’m a liberal. I go to a liberal school in a liberal neighborhood in a liberal city. So, the last thing I was expecting was that question. But before you knew it, two people had chosen pro. That meant that in order to go first, I would have to put away all my pride, all my honor, and all my opinions in order to win. And I won. I’m not going to go into full depth of how I won, but let’s just say it involved a lot of bias and fake information, like the blatant ignorance of some of the atrocities he’s said or the creation of false sources of good things he had done, as I couldn’t think of any myself. I actually hoped, prayed even, that I wouldn’t win. For corrupt politics not to prevail once again. And even though I won, I lost the true debate. I lost my opinion, one of the only things that makes me, me.

It’s almost funny. Humanity is built on the standards of “victory is good!” But at what cost? How far are you willing to go to “win?” What even is winning? It’s a social construct we created to segregate, a construct we need to distinguish who’s better and who’s less than others. This status currency has almost no meaning other than pride, so why do we chase it? Why play the game of cat and mouse with your life, with almost everything to lose? The answer is, even with all of our opinions, we only matter if other people mandate it. Our opinion only matters if it can be manipulated by greater power structures but here, on that debate podium, my individual opinion was the only moral integrity I had. Our individual opinions are the only morals we have, and in the pursuit of the relativity of opinion, I debated against Trump’s impeachment. In a society where status, currency, and popularity are based on our own agency, we crave power. We crave being loved. We crave appreciation. We crave someone holding us and telling us that we are okay. And most importantly, we crave winning. It’s only human. So when people ask me why I would help this horrible man spread his opinion, I say I’m only human. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We segregate, label, and divide people into groups, so we can judge them. It’s terrible, brutal, and unfair. But it’s what we do. We put away our moral integrity to win and to be recognized. The question now, is how do we contextualize ourselves?


One thought on “The​ ​Dilemma​ ​of​ ​a​ ​Debater’s​ ​Moral Integrity”

  1. Brilliant. He describes the man and how he became successful. Well written and riveting. Couldn’t put it down.

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