The most sought after electives in my high school – after the musical ones and the languages – were Argument 1 and Argument II. I grew up with two older brothers. What didn’t I know that I hadn’t learned from that? Still, I signed up – eager to join the elite club of “Seneca Valley students who have taken Argument I and II.”
This argument class taught me about backing your case with education and research. I learned how to research the other side and come prepared with counter points. I learned about the history of rhetoric and what it takes to be an influential presenter.
But there was perhaps nothing we stressed more than the importance of debate etiquette. You didn’t win by yelling louder. You didn’t win by repeating the same nuanced phrase over and over again. And you certainly didn’t win by attacking the person’s character. You won by stating your case and moving on.
One Saturday morning, the students of the elective argument class at Seneca Valley High School united with two other schools for a debate tournament. I ended up in the final debate, on the main stage in our school auditorium.
The topic was read. We had 2 minutes to prepare our information. I was to speak first.
I spoke my piece and then my opponent spoke his. I countered. He countered. And so on until we were at conclusions.
He spoke last.
He won the debate fair and square. He was poised, eloquent, and a great person to intelligently converse with. We shook hands and chatted for a bit and then went on our way. It was a perfectly executed debate. I was just bummed I had to speak first.
Everyone knows the person who speaks first doesn’t get the last word.
For years I’ve been chasing this idea of the “last word.” I’ve been infatuated with the idea of having the final say. I’ve wanted answers to questions I couldn’t form and explanations for things I could never understand. I’ve been angry and hurt and desperate to feel like I had held on for longer…desperate to feel like I had won.
And so I’d stay where I was, on my hypothetical treadmill, yelling louder and louder and repeating the same nuanced phrases over and over again, replaying the injustice of situations and stewing in anger toward the people, actions, or events that had brought me there.
But that’s not how you win.
You win by stating your case.
You win by walking away.
I read a quote the other day that said: “If you left the toxic relationship, you already won.”
You don’t need the last word. You already won.
This logic applies from everything to the online political debates to real life drama that you continually find yourself wrapped up in, repeating the same thing over and over again.
Don’t yell louder. Don’t attack a person’s character. Don’t tire yourself out. You are more than a broken record.
State your case. Hold your head high. And walk away.
You already won.