I defended "pro-life" in a high school debate. My classmates' reactions still haunt me.

As we push further into this era of ultra-divisiveness, where any given topic—Brett Kavanaugh’s newly won Supreme Court seat, “zero tolerance” immigration law, gun control, President Trump’s latest tweet—threatens to burst us all asunder, I find myself haunted by high school—the logical result, I suppose, of living in a world deranged by ego, idiocy, bigotry, and fear.

As far as metaphorical wellsprings go, there’s basically high school or Nazi Germany.


Okay so, here goes.

In tenth grade, I signed up to argue pro-life for Social Studies debate.

I had just transferred to a new school—the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts—in the middle of the school year. Somehow, it failed to occur to me that publicly defending an emblematic conservative cause during my first week at a free-wheeling arts school was a bad idea. I assumed everyone would just know—by virtue of what? My Urban Outfitters cardigan?— I wasn’t pro-life in real life.

Further complicating matters, I had partnered with Ashley Rook. At any other school, Ashley—a lifelong Girl Scout and devout Mormon who modeled her fashion choices after Cher in Clueless—might have flown under the radar. At LACHSA, she was a full-blown pariah.

But I had no clue about her social status. I was new, scared, and Ashley—a warm face in a sea of cool kids—was a balm to my goose-pimpled soul. When she asked if I’d like to be her debate partner, I said yes.

For the next two weeks, we immersed ourselves in research. We collected data about heartbeats, conception, and consciousness, and compiled quotes from philosophers, priests, and women with regrets. We carefully cut out photos of bloody embryos and pasted them to foam core with "Disappearing Purple" glue sticks. By the time debate day rolled around, we felt prepared and confident—not bad for a couple kids who in no way bought what they were selling.  

Facing a class of 20 to 25 students, with our facts and fetuses propped behind us like a shield, we presented our case. Halfway through our first notecard the jeering began. Heckles, scoffs, gasps of dismay.

One girl climbed into the lap of a friend, needing to be stroked and held. Other students perched on chair-backs like gargoyles poised to spit. It’s worth noting I have zero memory of the kids we actually “debated”—only our audience, a gang of glaring faces seared into my brain. It was disorienting.

Despite harboring the exact same political views as my class, I found myself transformed into a living effigy—a dummy in a baby tee.

I watched their faces—inflated by righteousness, puffed with power—and thought: you’re not upset. You’re enjoying this. (With their get-out-of-jail-free card to gang up on a dork and the new girl—who wouldn’t?)

For the next 40 minutes, I entered a sort of fugue state, during which I stopped defending pro-life as an intellectual exercise, and began defending it in earnest. My voice trembled. I pointed to Xeroxed fetuses with actual tears in my eyes. I was a believer. Because this wasn’t about pro-life versus pro-choice. Not anymore.

This was about me versus them.

We have crossed a similar threshold in this country. We have exited the realm of debate, in which ideas are pitted against ideas, into an amygdala delirium.

Here, people and ideas are fused, and citizens pitted against citizens. It’s a phenomenon dramatically stoked by our President: Trump doesn’t attack a point of view—his ignorance precludes him—he attacks the person. When, for example, he calls the media, “horrible, horrendous people,” he’s not critiquing an institution. He’s dehumanizing individuals.

We must, as much as possible, resist the urge to follow suit—to conflate people with their politics and reject them wholesale. When a video of Kavanaugh’s uncomfortable-looking wife flies around—why speculate whether or not she’s abused? Not only do we abandon the real crisis—the legitimacy of his post—we risk alienating complete strangers, people who may, for better or worse, see themselves in the Kavanaughs.

When we mock the Kavanaugh’s marriage, and mercilessly interpret their “body language,” we unknowingly disparage couples who may express themselves similarly—couples we don’t know. And nothing alienates more swiftly than ridicule—I experienced it first hand. Ridicule led me to earnestly defend—however briefly—a position I’d formally rejected. Imagine the effect if I’d started out taking that position?

If I’d been undecided?

I’m not saying I practice what I preach. I am the caustic Queen. The jester of jibes. I speak not of the pompitous of love. But maybe that’s why this high school debate episode haunts me. Maybe I know, on some level, for every cup of water I splash on this fire, I’m adding another two buckets of fuel.

lop
More
BXGD / Flickr and Cody Bondarchuk / Twitter

Sometimes the smallest gesture can turn your entire day around. You find a $5 bill in the pockets of your jeans. There's no traffic on the way home from work. Or by some divine intervention, you get 11 chicken McNuggets in your 10-piece box.

Of course, if you've ever had such a blessing, you know your first thought is, "Must be some sort of mistake."

But do you return the extra McNugget? Nope. You don't even feel an ounce of guilt for it. You dunk it in barbecue sauce and relish it like a gift from the gods.

A former McDonald's employee in Edmonton, Canada let the world know that sometimes an extra McNugget is not a mistake and he's become a viral hero.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
terimakasih0/Pixabay

When Iowa Valley Junior-Senior High School principal Janet Behrens observed her students in the cafeteria, she was dismayed to see that they spent more time looking down at their phones than they did looking at and interacting with each other. So last year, she implemented a new policy that's having a big impact.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

They say that kids say the darnedest things, and seriously, they do. Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with young children knows that sometimes the things they say can blow your mind.

Since teachers spend more time around little kids than anyone else, they are particularly privy to their profound and hilarious thoughts. That's why NYC kindergarten teacher Alyssa Cowit started collecting kid quotes from teachers around the country and sharing them on her Instagram account, Live from Snack Time, as well as her websiteand other social media channels.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular