Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'd Like To Have An Argument, Please.

I love to argue.

Let me clarify. I love to argue the right way. When it's done correctly, it's a Socratic exercise during which all sides air their points and eventually either find agreement or agree to disagree. When it's done poorly, things get way off topic, feelings get hurt, and nothing gets resolved. It can be really good, and it can be really bad.

It's paradoxical that the what starts most arguments also dooms them to failure. I'm referring to anger. Anger is useful if an argument leads to a physical fight, but we don't want that, do we? If we resort to anger too early, we often increase rather than decrease the risk of injury. Since I hate fighting, I'd much rather argue. Since we are only human, we have only so much control over our emotion, but we can take steps to make our arguments as productive as possible.

My advice to you:
1. Assume ignorance (your own, that is). Never enter an argument without coming to terms with your own human fallibility. You are not God, and you have and will continue to make mistakes, missteps, and errors of judgment. This will prevent unnecessary negativity in your life. Accept it. A closed mind will only bring frustration. The best argument is one that is between parties prepared to be proven wrong, which in the end, is learning.

2. Do your best to stay in the rational sphere and out of the emotional sphere. It's not always possible, especially when you are taken by surprise by an argument (which leads me to my next point), but try your best. Breathe deeply, listen closely, and think before you speak.

3. If you are planning to bring up a contentious point, or in other words, start an argument, introduce your point in a manner that does not pressure the other party into a defensive position. Instead of characterizing a behavior or statement made by the other party, describe how it made you feel. For example, instead of "you behaved (spoke) poorly," you could say: "the way you behaved (spoke) made me feel like "x."

4. Define the terms. Don't change the topic or bring up the past. A narrowly defined argument in an efficient argument.

5. See rules 1. and 2
By preparing for an argument with these tips, your argument is likely to end before it begins. If an argument is sprung upon you, Begin with no. 4, and then proceed to no. 1.

Of course, all this is taking for granted that you always do what you feel is the right thing. Whether or not it is actually the right thing is irrelevant as long as you can honestly make a case for why you believe it is. On the other hand, if you know you are wrong, the best course of action is to apologize and change your behavior. Doing what you know is the wrong thing always makes you a loser in the end. It doesn't matter if you're found out or not, because what my 7th grade English teacher said was true: A guilty conscience needs no accuser. And a guilty conscience almost always creates rotten arguments.

Arguing doesn't have to a painful, negative experience. It should be a positive experience resulting in deepened intimacy, or at least deepened understanding. An argument should always be a journey from ignorance towards enlightenment, which is always better and never worse.


Anonymous eachtime said...

I can't agree more. I live in an island country in Asia and the media here is monopolized. In the earlier years all we see in the media is what we assume the world is like, and now, many years after our independence, we still adhere to the agenda set by the governing party.

People who set agendas are often blurring the distinction between being critical and wanting to criticise. They assume that the world only ticks one way, and if you're critical you immediately need to be against certain policies. In a dialogue session with the PM recently, he said he'll allow any argument, but you shouldn't cross the line b/w yours and his positions. As a citizen of the country, that's depressing.

1:49 AM  

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