Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

Civil Discourse

Reaching back into the not so far distant past, one of the activities I participated in during my high school years was debate. Monroe High School in Fairbanks, Alaska had a debate club that I joined shortly after leaving the high school choir. My voice had changed and I couldn't hold a note without ending up screeching in C above high C. That simple change ended up making a great change in many things in my life over the following years. Among the things we were taught in the debate club, besides delivering a coherent and respectable argument, was to think in an organized manner before opening our mouths. The training included doing proper in depth research for both the pros and the cons. In other words, we had to find logical and legitimate facts that we could use to support the argument we presented at the debate. The easiest way to lose a debate was to be disorganized and incoherent in presentation. We were taught to be concise, precise, factual and to keep our personal feelings out of both our tone of voice and our presentation.

Our verbal presentations delivered during these debates were the result of many, many hours of research and preparation. Depending on the subject under debate this research could include anything available from government archives, college libraries, you name it. The data had to be provable based on more than one reliable source. The more collaborative sources the better. Just because so-and-so politician or scientist said so was not acceptable proof.

We could call out our opponents for presenting false or inadequate arguments as long as we could prove it. Regardless of our political leanings, regardless of our personal feelings, our presentations had to be based on proven facts. Period.

In my junior and senior years the debate coach teamed me with Bob Kies, a former California surfer dude. (more on him in a future article!) He and I were able to complement each others' strengths and cover each other weaknesses. As members of a debate team Bob and I were perfect.

Anyway, one of the things we were strenuously schooled about was the use of our voices. We could be blunt, stern or humorous. We could never be flippant, rude or crude, and making fun of or belittling our opponents in any way was prohibited and would cause us to lose the debate and the tournament. We could use stern tones of voice, or we could be humorous as we presented our facts and arguments. We learned to be logical and how to use our tone of voice to give emphasis to important points that supported our side. We could present counter facts and arguments to refute (called "rebuttal") the opposition and we could use our voices in a way that intimated we absolutely believed our side.

During a debate making fun of the opposition, name calling, cursing, or belittling of our opponents was the fastest way to lose the debate and be removed from debate club. In other words, we learned how to have an argument and remain civilized at the same time.

These days it seems more and more people are unable to talk with someone who disagrees with them without getting verbally or physically abusive. Those responses are designed to shut down and shut off any and all forms of opposition.

If we no longer have free speech, if you and I cannot publicly voice our support or opposition to a candidate, or a government action, etc. then we no longer live in a free country. We are one step away from the establishment of a total dictatorship.

Think about that.

Stay tuned for some historical and U.S. Constitutional arguments against some things our government has done...


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