Monday, July 05, 2004

An Argument Against Arguing

I hate arguments. I mean I REALLY hate arguments. Can there be a bigger waste of time and energy? Is hurling epithets hither and yon ever productive? Is getting creamed by your own verbal nuggets, dipped in vitriol by your opponent and lobbed back at you, ever useful in any way?

I have never been good at arguments. I don't like them because I don't like to say anything hurtful. Because I don't personally like to be hurt, I think it fair that I shouldn't hurt anyone else either. Yes, I know that I snipe at politicians and bureaucrats, and hopefully, occasionally, hit my intended mark. Still, in my personal life, I try really hard not to hurt anyone. Words spoken in anger are very potent. Once said, something cannot be unsaid. It's 'out there' forever.

As hard as I have always tried to avoid unnecessary conflict, there has still been the occasional disagreement. These are mostly part of my distant past, where they belong. I certainly don't care to relive them. These days, tense situations rarely deteriorate to what I would characterize as an argument.

In my distant past, though, things often got a little too heated for my taste. My part in the resultant verbal exchanges was usually one of silent befuddlement. I couldn't really get a handle on what was going on, so I just ducked as verbiage flew my way, waiting for the barrage to stop. I even resisted scratching my head in bewilderment, lest I might accidentally give the impression that I was giving a middle-fingered salute to whoever was berating me at the time.

Did I say that I HATE arguments?

It's not that I can't argue. I know lots of words. I know lots of hurtful words. I know the power of words. I know that I can destroy most any adversary in an unbridled exchange of verbal venom. I just don't like to do that. I prefer to discuss. I prefer an exchange of opinions, presented calmly, without rancour, with intent to resolution of some kind. In the end, everyone is happy. At least that's the theory.

Is that the way things work in the real world? Sadly, no. At the end of most arguments, nothing is gained. The parties involved retreat to lick their wounds. I suspect that most arguments are between lovers or spouses. The joyous and satisfying 'making up' after an argument that I have heard and read about doesn't appear to exist in the real world. In the real world, the arguers are left hurt and confused, as might be expected after an exchange of emotionally-laden accusations.

So why do people argue? I have never been able to understand that. Two or more people yell at each other, get it all out in the open, and the one that yells loudest wins. Or so it seems, superficially. In reality, by getting a complaint off one's chest, one simply transfers the hurt to someone else. If the argument involves a male and a female, watch out. No male ever wins an argument. Even if the female backs off and the male has the last word, she has still won. Females simply have too many weapons in their arsenal. And many females are prepared to use every single one of them. They can dredge up any past slight or omission from their mental databank. They can cry. They can introduce irrelevancies. And no matter what they do, men can't (won't) fight back, because that is not the gentlemanly thing to do.

I have said many times that a man might stab you in the back, but it takes a woman to twist the knife once it's in. That has been my experience in past marriages, relationships, encounters. It makes no sense to me.

Recently, my young son called a family meeting. His stated purpose was to present an appeal for the family to purchase a trampoline. I was in no mood to entertain anything so frivolous, so I responded by saying that there were more important things to deal with, like always making sure that his room was clean, his chores were done, his various responsibilities met. That way, no nagging would ever be necessary and no deterioration into arguments would be likely.

Ninety minutes later, I sat there, on the couch in the family room, amazed. An eleven-year-old boy had made me reconsider my position on arguing. And he had done so in an articulate, passionate fashion, presenting his case clearly and concisely.

Arguments, my son said, were a necessary part of life. Without arguments, he said, how would anyone know where their mates or parents or children 'stood' on any issue. One 'argued' one's position in court, did one not? One hired lawyers to present legal arguments to attempt to right wrongs. Arguments were good. Arguments were necessary. He went on and on. My wife and I listened.

I wish I had had the foresight to record the entire proceeding.

I was a precocious kid. I started ruminating on the meaning of life and other weighty issues when I was eleven, the current age of my son. I figured out a lot of things at that age. I made decisions then that colour my every act and perception to this day. For the most part, I am happy with the decisions I made at that tender age. They have served me well. I guess it should be no surprise that now, at age 58, I am learning from my son.

The reality is that what he calls arguments, I call discussions. I still don't like the yelling kind of argument and never will. But I will try to be a little more open to listening to someone else's opinion.

Even yours, dear reader.

Just don't raise your voice or call me names.

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