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Lessons from Debating

Things change, people change. What endures is our need to debate.

This was our mantra in the debating team back in the days (we were called the Debate Congress then). At that point, our understanding of the clauses was very simple – never waiver in your arguments because an issue can be best resolved through intelligent discourse. We were so passionate about what we were doing that we practically breathed and lived debating. We competed, won some and lost some, but it was not until after I left college that I realized fully what the words really meant.

Things change, people change. What endures is our need to debate.

It did not take long for me to learn that the number of choices one faces in school pales in comparison to the number of choices one makes in the professional world. The ones off campus are much harder to make, too. For instance, it was easier for me to pick a political color or make a stand on issues in the student government because I wasn’t writing for the school paper. It was no longer as easy when I became a journalist, especially when I was covering politics and local government. Because it was incumbent upon me to not take sides, it became difficult to express my feelings and thoughts in public, particularly if the subject I felt strongly about concerned the area I was covering.

The argument is that it should no longer be a dilemma because neutrality and objectivity are a must when one practices journalism. But, hey, whoever said journalists are devoid of emotions? As people shaped by individual set of values, we will always have personal biases. The danger becomes real the moment journalists allow their personal thoughts and feelings affect their work. Keeping the devil from emerging is a choice journalists have to make at their level.

I learned that the choices I had to make could either make or break my credibility and the trust I shared with my sources.

This is the kind of discipline I carried with me even when I left the field to concentrate on work as an editor. Because I was looking at a bigger picture, I knew that the decisions I had to arrive at in marshaling both the human and physical resources of the newsroom could either make or break a story and the news group as a whole.

The wisdom behind debating, therefore, is having clarity of thought to examine all sides of an issue to reach reasonable judgment. Making an argument, however, is the easier part. For many, the more challenging job is bringing that argument across. It always takes courage, if not guts, to bring an idea to the table, much more to convince others to accept that idea and abandon their own. The best way to do so, as what debating has taught me, is to make sure that every argument you make is supported by evidence – incontrovertible proof – so much so if the party you are trying to convince is yourself.

They say that being a Sillimanian gives you a certain confidence to face the world and the tenacity to fight for your dreams. This, I believe, is true, but I also believe in another lesson I learned from debating – no one has the monopoly of knowledge. Back in the team, we kept the words of philosopher Sun Tzu in mind: 1) Never underestimate your opponent and 2) Never underestimate your opponent’s capability to underestimate you.

Debating and life outside Silliman also taught me that public speaking and leadership always go hand in hand. Effective leaders are, by themselves, effective public speakers. They are able to channel their thoughts across clearly and manage to persuade others to embrace these thoughts in the process.

Things change, people change. What endures is our need to debate.

We are lucky to be living at a time when the world is literally at our fingertips. Now, more than ever, with the advancement in technology, the challenge for rational thought has never been more daunting. Social media, for example, may have torn down the wall between people in power and ordinary citizens, but it can also be a potent channel for irresponsible behavior. The good news is that even at an individual level, with a click of a button, we have the power to help bring this generation down a responsible road. All we need to do is make the right choices.

My proposition for you, my fellow Sillimanians, is to give these lessons a chance. I hope you take the positive side.

*The author graduated from Silliman in 2001 and is a newspaper editor in Cebu City. He teaches part time in the College of Mass Communication.

Off Campus
Joeberth M. Ocao

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