Teaching Keeps You Honest

Lama debating
Image via Wikipedia
This week I am teaching my Worlds debate class, and the group I have is pretty impressive. All quite sharp, all very interested, and all excited to learn the art of debate. I started as I usually do by showing the WUDC Koc Worlds Final round - a round that many still praise as one of the best, if not the best WUDC final of all time. After we watched about half of it, the students were ready to ask questions or make comments.

"Why do they bounce around so weird when they talk?"

"Why do they go so fast? I can't remember anything they said."

"Why don't they just choose the most important point and stick with it?"

"Why do they speak so artificially?"

I was struck with a nice moment of dissonance - here's the best we have to offer from the culture of competitive debate, and an intelligent, if green, audience is having trouble understanding why it is valuable. There number one concern was if they were going to have to speak like that.

"No," I said, "But you will be expected to speak persuasively. So if you are in front of different audiences, you must be prepared to adapt your words to fit the occasion, otherwise it's like you haven't said anything at all." They were pretty quiet. "Like how you feel about this video," I added. They started to resonate.

I was reminded of the continuing insular practices of monastic orders. Their idea of good worship, or best worship is really just a performance of a believed rhetorical "purity" - when unordained see it, they correctly identify it as irrelevant, weird, and confusing. If you are in the order though, if you have faith, then you start to see it as not only proper, but "the best."

Debate as seen from non-Western monastic practices is just upaya - skillful means that help one realize how to reach others with the truth. I think this is a good spice to add to our discussions of WUDC rounds that are "the best" or "really good." We must always keep in mind that we are not reaching the audiences we imagine we are, and the more we speak to one another and appeal to one another, the less of a remainder there is. Without something left that doesn't cleanly divide out in the discourse, there's little for outsiders to grasp on to.

Having to teach debate to the non-initiated is also an important element of practice. It's required in martial arts to teach at some point in your studies. We should require it too. At the very least, it will keep you honest about what you are accomplishing, doing, permitting, and promoting in the world. And although cold, it's good to get hit with a bath from time to time.

Enhanced by Zemanta