A debater writes,
At a recent tournament, I made my opponent cry because I crushed the criterion of utilitarianism with the slavery argument--saying that it leads to a tyranny of the majority, which would justify slavery. I was wondering if that was a bad thing, because my coach says, "Always be polite while debating, and if you are able to destroy your opponent's argument, destroy it politely." I attempted to be polite, yet the tears still came and my judge docked points because I was "rude." Any tips on how to "destroy" my opponent's arguments politely?That's a tough call--without being there, it's impossible to know what your tone of voice was, precisely what words you used, etc. And sometimes it's just not your fault. I had a competitor one time who, frustrated because she had never heard of a particular philosophy before, broke down during the round and ran out crying. Her opponent hadn't done anything wrong--he was unfailingly polite in his presentation.
That said, here are some general things to do / watch for:
1. Pay attention to your opponent's experience level. If you can tell they're a rookie, ease up a bit. If they don't understand something, and ask for clarification in CX, provide it for them, even if it gives them an avenue to attack you. The judge will appreciate the fact that you're helping the educational purpose of the activity.
2. Use less combative language. Instead of saying "My opponent would justify slavery..." say, "If we affirm the resolution, we might justify slavery." The "we" makes it sound inclusive for all, making the same point while less pointedly attacking the other side. Don't say "evil" or "heinous" or "disastrous," which, in some arguments, will make *you* sound unreasonable or dogmatic, anyway.
3. If you must talk about your opponent, include specific phrasing to make them sound reasonable. After all, they're obligated to uphold that side of the resolution not for personal reasons, but because that's how it works. Say, "My opponent's choice of utilitarianism is well-intentioned, but flawed, since valuing the greater good over individual happiness can lead to persecution of a minority. I'm sure my opponent would agree that slavery is a dreadful consequence of such logic, so we must look to my criterion of individual rights in this round...."
4. Breathe deeply. Relax. Smile. If you seem uptight, you'll seem more jerk-ish.
5. Look at the judge. Furrowed brow? Stern gaze? It's probably a cue to back off.
6. Record yourself debating, either on video or audio. Listen to your vocal quality. Look at your body language, your gestures and posture, your facial expressions. Do they radiate confidence or arrogance?
Most important, persist in your willingness to ask about these things. Such honest self-appraisal will carry you far.