The Art of Argument
In this article, 2022 Debating Captain, Livia shares what she has gained from debating and why she recommends others learn the powerful art of argument.
One of the longest and most intense debates I’ve ever spoken in was not about politics, or international affairs, or whether schools should have uniforms. It was about how to make Bolognese. You see, I’m very, very passionate about my pasta, and apparently so were the other members of the state debating team who I was training with. Our lunchtime was supposed to be a break from debates – but this time, it definitely wasn’t. Should you have celery in your Bolognese sauce? No. What about carrots? If you really want. What vegetables do you use then? Eggplant, obviously. Thickens the sauce amazingly if you let it simmer for long enough. Questions regarding what kind of meat you should use (a mixture of beef and pork, by the way) led to a bizarre discussion of whether the meat is or isn’t considered a part of the sauce itself.
It was hectic, and ridiculous, and there were no rules. But when I consider what debating is, and what it has given me, this is the memory which seems like the obvious answer. The argument was comical, because it wasn’t just a comparison of our deeply contrasting opinions, but heavily reasoned.
The art of argument, even in more intellectual debates about politics, or international affairs, or whether schools should have uniforms, remains the same. Debating teaches you to present reasons for your opinions, by always explaining the consequences and value that your opinions might have. And it teaches you to express those opinions boldly and without fear. This confidence, this development of reasoning skills, can only be developed one way: practice. And while there are many ways to find that practice, debating is the best. It forces you to practise argument in your own words, not the words of others, and teaches you to be comfortable with doing so in front of anyone.
Debating is unique because of the other people in the room. The audience, the target of your persuasion, are frightening because they are listening to you. But their listening is also what makes your speech powerful, and able to elicit emotional responses. They encourage you, through their listening, to try to make them laugh, or cry, or clench their fists with outrage. The others in the room – the opposition – are there to challenge your thinking. They will push against your weaker arguments, and in repairing them you will learn to make them stronger. Both audience and opposition push you to be better, creating an environment which will encourage you to always sharpen your analysis and embellish your delivery. While this challenge is not an easy one to rise to, in return it offers you the rewards of improving your argumentative skills, boosting your confidence, and the opportunity to make friends. The chance to so rigorously improve is rare, and when it presents itself, it is undeniably worth taking.
Alongside representing Fintona as Debating Captain, Livia has been a member of the Victorian State Debating Team and the Australian National Debating Team in 2021 and 2022. This year, Livia was awarded best speaker for the Camberwell region and the State Swannie Award for best speaker in Victoria by the Debaters Association of Victoria (DAV). The Swannie Award recognises the height of excellence in the DAV.