But in all your preparation think beyond the special debate you are preparing for. What you are or should be aiming at is habit—the instinctive, spontaneous execution of rules which you have forgotten. When the habit is established you can let all these questions of voice, of attitude, of gesture, drop from your mind, and give your whole attention to the ideas you are developing, and the language in which you shall clothe them. Then the tones of your voice will respond to the earnestness of your feeling, and your gestures will be the spontaneous response to the emphasis of your thought. You will not be a perfect debater until all these matters are regulated from the unconscious depths of your mind.
In your attitude towards the debaters on the other side be scrupulously fair and friendly. In class debates the matter is finished when the debate is over; and what you are after is skill, and not beating some one. In interscholastic and intercollegiate debates victory is the end; but even there, after the debate you will often go out to supper with your opponents. Therefore demolish their arguments, but do not smash their makers.
If the first speech falls to you, set forth the facts in such a way that not only your opponents will have no corrections or protests to make, but that they will be wholly willing to make a start from your foundation. Yield all trivial points: it is a waste of your time and proof of an undeveloped sense of proportion to haggle over points that in the end nobody cares about. You have won a point if you can make the audience and the judges feel that you are anxious to allow everything possible to the other side.
If your opponent trips on some small point of fact or reasoning, don’t heckle him; let it pass, or, at the most, point it out with some kindly touch of humor. If his facts or his reasoning are wrong on important points, that is your opportunity, and you must make the most of it. Even then, however, stick to the argument, and keep away from any appearance of being personal.
66. The Morals of Debating. There is a moral or ethical side to practice in debating which one cannot ignore. It is dangerous to get into the habit of arguing lightly for things in which one does not believe; and students may be forced into doing this if great care is not taken in the choice of subjects and sides. The remedy lies in using, so far as they can be kept interesting, questions in which there is no moral element; but still better in assigning sides to correspond with the actual views and preferences of the debaters. Where a question of principle is involved no one should ever argue against his beliefs. The better class of lawyers are scrupulous about this: they will not accept a brief which they believe to be in a cause which ought not to win. If you have clearly made up your mind on a question of public policy, you are in a false position if you argue, even for practice, against what you believe to be the right.