A Note to My Daughter

On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory. — General Douglas MacArthur

My Darling Daughter,

I’m having fun following your battles on the debate circuit. General MacArthur’s quote applies just as well, I think, to this endeavor as to his original reference to sports like football and basketball. Your competition is on the gridiron of the mind, perhaps the “ultimate test of cerebral fitness,” in the immortal words of Murray Head.

In any competition, your adversaries will sometimes play dirty, and they’ll often get away with it. As you expected, someone finally resorted to a small-minded ad hominem attack that asserted you had no business talking about Topic X because you weren’t from Race Y and Class Z, as if ideas were somehow bounded by genetics and caste, or truth determined by the language employed to express it.

Of course, there's always *my* way...Any advice I might offer with regard to defending yourself in a debate would likely be as welcome as my thoughts on haute couture, and I don’t know anyone better equipped to handle themselves in an intellectual knife fight than you. Still, one of my jobs as your father is to remind you from time to time about things you already know that might be nice to remember when somebody is saying your arguments don’t count because you’re a white girl from Kansas.

1. If your opponent opts to call you names rather than engage the merits of your argument, you can be pretty sure they have no ideas of their own worth mentioning. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of wetting their pants. Call up that image the next time this happens.

2. Wisdom and sound reasoning aren’t a zero-sum game in which inspiration from one source necessarily comes at the expense of another. This broken planet needs all the good ideas it can get, from everyone, and we do ourselves no favors by telling one part of our global society to shut up because of the circumstances of their birth. Being born into a particular culture isn’t the only way to gain a deep understanding of it. Sometimes the perspective of an “outsider” can reveal truth invisible to someone on the inside.

3. If we banned people from our conversations because their formative years were too privileged or insufficiently oppressed, we’d have to discard the contributions of people like Siddhartha Gautama, Francis of Assisi, Katherine Drexel, Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Schweitzer, and more others than I care to list. Some employed their wealth to help the poor, some abandoned material prosperity to serve among people in need, but all of them made a profound impact that changed their world for the better through the force of their ideas and the power of their example.

I’m proud of you. Hang in there and fight on.

All My Love,

Dad

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