How Debate Teaches the invaluable Lesson of Empathy

March 12, 2019

By Jenna Kaminski

Lumos Intern

What is Empathy, and Why is it Important?

According to Psychology Today, “empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from his or her point of view, rather than from one’s own”. Being in tune with the way others feel is extremely important in creating connections. As only a small minority of our emotions are presented by what we actually say, it is important to be able to pick up on body language, tone and facial expressions. By understanding others on this deeper level, we can act in a way that best support others and strengthens relationships.

How Can My Child Learn and Practice Empathy Through Debate?

Believe it or not, debate and empathy are extremely connected! By researching often controversial topics, debate allows an individual to better understand issues that affect many people throughout the world and better understand the struggles of others. In addition, debaters must research both sides of an argument, allowing them to understand two opposing views of the same situation. This is important for the creation of a solid argument as well as the ability to compromise in a disagreement. Debate does not consist of stubbornly repeating one side of an argument; it uses the practice of listening to the opponent, taking notes and adapting one’s argument to better fit the scenario. Listening is an important skill and a key component of empathy as it allows an individual to not only hear the words, but truly understand them.

But if debate is a speaking activity, why is it relevant to nonverbal communication?

Whether presenting to an audience, a small panel of judges, or even just a single opponent, all debaters use their empathy skills! By observing how one’s speech can affect the body language of an opponent, an individual can determine which points the opponent was more prepared for and which one he or she should expand on. In addition, the point of a debate is to win the support of the judges. Again, by observing the body language of the panel, an individual can determine which arguments and pieces of evidence had the most effect. As with the purpose of most literary or speech-based activities, debate is about connecting with others, and empathy is necessary to do this.

How Debate Helped My Empathy

For me, the practice of listening and understanding different viewpoints was the most influential part of debate. Whether it is a disagreement with a sibling or friend or attempting to comprehend views different from mine on global issues, I use my debate listening skills. I believe that this allowed me to become a more compassionate person and learn to not only resolve conflicts, but support others who I might otherwise dislike because of our opposing opinions. I have to credit my debate skills for my success in both personal and professional relationships.

Let’s Wrap it All Up!

While debate is, in part, about arguing, the empathetic component it entails can create a more understanding and tolerant individual. The skills of listening, considering both sides of an argument, and reading body language are all practiced in debate and can work to develop relationships, both personal and professional.