Sunday, July 8, 2012

Could you die in order to live?

When I send emails, I always put a quote at the bottom. At face value, it seems like your average, put-as-part-of-your-signature quote. But over the past several months, it's come to mean so much more to me than just that. The quote is from GK Chesterton (yeah I know, big surprise) and it's about courage.

"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die."

I can't say that I ever felt like courage contradicted itself. I have always thought that courage was something to want, to aspire toward, to have. Even after I started putting this quote on my emails, I didn't recognize its full significance.

That is, until a debate round. It's so funny how things just hit you right in the middle of everyday, down-in-the-trenches life. We were debating against a nationally known team and feeling pretty stressed just going into the round. Mind you, this was the new resolution that we'd only had a couple of weeks to prepare for, and most of that time had been spent working on affirmative. Now, we were going negative against a really good team.

When the first speaker stood up and gave the speech, I grew more and more nervous. I don't usually get anxious during speech rounds or debate rounds- I have too many things going on in my head, too many feelings already without anxiety there to complicate them. So, having this intense nervousness was really new and very unwelcome for me.

As fate would have it, I was the first negative speaker. I sat at the prep table, using up as much time as I could, trying to see if I had something worthwhile to talk about. It wasn't that this was a particularly amazing case- it was just that my brain wasn't functioning right and I wasn't able to make heads or tails out of it.

When the timer called "2 minutes used," I knew that I had to stop. I was just trying to put off the inevitable.
I'm a debater. This is my job. I have a responsibility to my partner, to my club, to my coach, to my family, and to myself, to get up there and do the best job that I can. Don't think about how bad it'll be. Just get up there, say what you have to say, and don't start repeating yourself. Finish when you're done.

The speech was four minutes long. A usual constructive is usually double that. When I sat back down, I definitely didn't feel proud of myself. I wasn't pleased with what I had done, because I felt like it was beneath my capabilities.

But reflecting back on the round, I realized that courage had to play a part in that scenario. I wanted to "live." (meaning, get up and speak.) I knew that I had a responsibility to live. But that desire, that wish, had to be backed up by something real and constructive. I had to be ready and willing to sacrifice my own comfort and accomplish what needed done. I had to die to my vision of what I wanted the speech to look like and be okay with what the speech was. I had to die to thoughts of what the judge may think of my speaking style or lack thereof and focus on getting the words out of my mouth.

We won the round. It wasn't because of how I spoke, or how I did. I didn't know when I started that I'd win the round- but of course, we had a 50/50 chance of winning just going into the room. But if I didn't get up to speak, that chance would have dropped to 100/0, in favor of aff. By not speaking and not conquering myself, I would have forfeited the round. That's what I knew I couldn't do.
I wouldn't want to re-live that round, but at the same time I needed to learn the lesson. Courage isn't some word that stirs up feel-good emotions. It's a call to duty, a call to valor. It's a virtue that should always be blossoming and never stop growing. Because in our own way, we are all asked to rise to a challenge. And to conquer that challenge requires real, contradicting courage.

"This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it.
A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape.
He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine."
~GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 136

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