Over a decade ago, I debated a women's studies professor at California State University in San Marcos on the topic “Should abortion be illegal?” I didn’t have any experience with an event like that, and I’ve never considered myself quick on my feet (I like to mull over ideas before responding), but I knew committing to the debate would help sharpen my skills.
The format of the debate forced me to distill my best content and present it as quickly and effectively as I could. After all, the entire debate was only 50 minutes since it was sandwiched between classes during a one-hour lunch period (the organizers offered free pizza to draw students to the event). That meant I only had a ten-minute opening statement (as did she) followed by five-minute rebuttals and closing statements. There was also a time for audience questions and answers. The whole event was over in what felt like an instant.
After the debate, I remember feeling like I did well. Watching the video today, however, I had a slightly different assessment. Sure, I did well for my first debate, but there were two areas where I dropped the ball. One, it seems like I struggled to fully understand her position. Part of the challenge was—and I remember thinking this during her opening ten-minute segment—she was all over the place. In addition to addressing abortion, she brought up how pro-lifers are inconsistent because they don’t always care for children dying from starvation, disease, and lack of access to clean water. She brought up war, hunting animals for food, and killing in self-defense. I remember thinking, how do I capture her view in a cohesive way so I can respond? Because I was nervous and not quick on my feet, I decided to give a more generalized rebuttal to her opening statement. It was on topic but not as directed towards her opening remarks as I had hoped.
Two, during the question-and-answer time, the subject of rape came up. Although I gave a logically correct answer, I didn’t take any time to acknowledge the evil of rape or express sympathy and compassion towards a woman who is raped. I’ve drastically changed that approach since then and even call out pro-lifers like myself who make such tone-deaf mistakes.
There are other areas where I could have done better, but overall, I felt like I was able to communicate the points I wanted. If you ever have the chance to review your speaking or writing years later, it’s an illuminating experience. I found it encouraging to see where I’ve grown. Of course, it also makes me wonder what other areas I need to continue to refine and improve.