Each of us has our own perspective on the world, a unique voice. But what are we saying with that voice?
I know people who love to argue and debate. Why this movie was award worthy and that one was drivel. Which leisure activities are constructive and which are utter wastes of time and intellect. What will happen in the afterlife.
Religion. Politics. Sports. Pop culture. Extraterrestrials. As far as I can tell, the topic isn’t important as long as, at the end of the day, someone is wrong and someone is right. Or more right. Or, at the very least, louder.
In yesterday’s post, I introduced one of my favorite quotes: “The only prize for being the most miserable is … Congratulations! You’re the Most Miserable!” Similarly, in the context of social debate, I find myself wondering, what is the prize for being right? I’m a firm believer that human beings do virtually nothing without a perceived gain. If that is true, what is the gain in winning an argument?
I am not speaking from some lofty soap box here. In my younger years, I was quite the debater. There were times when I chose to lose sleep in order to continue arguing a point into the wee hours, because I hadn’t quite backed my opponent entirely into the corner yet. And I could back them into the corner given enough time. Logic. Vocabulary. Verbal ability. I had them in spades. I could ask the most clever questions, trap you in your own words, or even get you to think that you had somehow agreed with me all along. But I’m really trying to remember … Why did I care?
I don’t like the answers that surface. They’re ugly.
Some might argue (no surprises there) that it’s no more than harmless entertainment. Or that it’s a necessity in keeping people aware of important issues. Or a tool for staying mentally sharp. And I can see each of these having validity.
If they were true.
My own observation, however, has been that most people who engage in social arguments exhibit signs that such innocuous or altruistic motives may not be forefront. They become stressed. Preoccupied. Obsessed. Angry. Arrogant. Demeaning.
Do an honest assessment. When you argue, are these things true of you? And if they are, is it really “harmless”?
Is stress or anger really the best way to keep your brain limber and prevent senility?
And as for changing the views of society on important matters, how’s that going for you? Who is the last opponent you converted to your viewpoint? And even if you did manage, by sheer volume of your words, to elicit a concession – did it change the person or their world view for the better?
So again I ask, what is the gain?
I’m writing a book and a blog. Clearly, I believe in exercising a voice in the world. And don’t get me wrong – I believe there is a place for discussion and even respectful disagreement. There’s a lot to be learned through such things. But I wonder if going beyond that, to asserting we are unequivocally right in our thinking, is all that worthy an undertaking. Or is there more value to be found in building tolerance for viewpoints other than my own.
To ask more than I tell.
To listen more than I talk.
To find common ground rather than differences.
To shine the spotlight on others more than myself.
To be kind rather than to be right.
You decide. I won’t argue with you.