In Defence of the GA
General Assemblies are the juggernauts of Model UN: unwieldy, anarchic, and seething with egos clamoring for attention and status.
As a delegation, you and your partner are outnumbered by a hive of two-hundred plus students. Your dais has only so much control, and draft resolutions morph into twenty-page omnibus monstrosities. Opportunities to speak are few and far between, and many delegates are swept aside by bellicose competitors and snarky schemers. You are assailed by empty rhetoric and sophistry, and will invariably spend at least one session at the very back of the room. You will question why you have spent money to be there that weekend, and wonder if MUN is really something you want to do at all. GAs are marathons – a survival-of-the-fittest game of sheer willpower.
How on earth could such an ordeal be defensible, much less appealing?
Aside from the fact that they tend to be both humbling and invigorating experiences, General Assemblies are a tremendously important part of Model UN’s hands-on learning approach to international affairs. You will never become more acutely aware of the agonizingly slow, vague, infuriating and tedious policy process of the United Nations as you will in a GA. By the same token however, you will never experience such elation and achievement at a MUN conference as you will when your sponsored GA resolution passes.
Moreover, the challenging nature of the GA tends to induce, in my own experience, a degree of self-reflection that I have never felt as keenly in other committee sizes or styles. The fact of the matter is that you will never hone your own skills in argumentation and rhetoric if you aren’t forced to navigate and engage those of others. You will never succeed in persuading those around you unless you’re willing to listen to points of view that aren’t your own, even and especially when they seem ill-conceived. GAs will push you to the limits of your comfort, patience, confidence, and tenacity: it’s the feeling you’ll get when you walk up to the microphone for the first time to speak to hundreds of students. Its the feeling you’ll get when you walk into the most important job interview you’ve had yet. Its the feeling you’ll get when you submit your graduate applications, tell someone you love them or decide to move to another country. You’ll never forget it.
Becoming and remaining a leader in a GA is exceptionally difficult. It is a balancing act of an Aristotelian nature, emphasizing the mean between patience and assertiveness, speaking and listening, stubbornness and placation, smile and sting, ego and empathy, professional and personable. Allow others to ride roughshod over you, and you risk falling by the wayside. Bully those around you into following your lead with sarcasm or snobbery, and you’ll find yourself alone. Not such a bad life lesson.
Countless times I have listened to delegates bemoan their GA, citing biased Chairs, ‘gavel-chasers’, and poor topic selection for their discouragement and marginalization. However, that GAs make you question your place and participation at a conference is one of the most valuable aspects of this committee. Successful delegates will internalize this question, and realize that it is not up to the dais, other delegates or the conference itself to make your experience worthwhile; that part is entirely up to you, and you alone. So speak first, smile often and dress well.
What are you waiting for? Try a GA.