I learned the hard way that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.
I stood before the tribunal of unsmiling judges. Having completed the debate competition was hard enough, to now face their criticism was worse.
My teammate and I had argued our case about America’s broken welfare system against a formidable twosome.
Now the four of us had to stand and listen to why we’d won or lost. To say it was humbling is mild. The judges could tell us we were sloppy in our presentation, or worse, that our arguments were unfounded—a polite way of saying that we were blowing smoke and didn’t know what we were talking about. You couldn’t fool the judges—they could shoot holes in your logic, and would expose any shoddy research.
Sweat was sliding down my back as it became my turn to hear their critique. Later, I would wonder why this was something I enjoyed doing, but for now, I respectfully stood and listened.
Tapping a pen on the score sheet in front of him, one of the judges impaled me with glaring eyes. Thoughts raced through my mind. How could I have done so bad? What had I said that had met with such obvious disapproval?
I sensed the other competitors looking at me—probably thankful they weren’t getting the evil eye.
“Young lady, may I suggest that if you hope to be successful in oral arguments, you learn how to disagree, without being so disagreeable.”
I nodded slightly and waited for more. However, he shook his head, scribbled on my score card and allowed his look of disapproval to sear itself into my mind.
As I scroll through the political posts on social media I’m reminded of those three judges. It’s never been easier to be caustic in sharing opposing views.
But the lesson I learned long ago is still true today—being disagreeable is an easy way to lose the debate, and far worse, lose friends.
"The truly wise person restrains his words, and the one who stays calm is discerning." Proverbs 17:27