Once upon a time I was a mouthy, punk kid with a lot to say. If I had an opinion, I’d voice it. If I didn’t like you, I’d tell you. If you made me mad, trust me you knew. Everyone knew! I know you’re sitting back saying, “And….this has changed…how???” It has!! (You’re not believing me yet, are you?) I’ve learned through many humbling experiences to pick my battles. I have learned the art of arguing. This seems to be a lost art these days.
My earliest, most humbling experience came with the inevitable first love/first break up. We were a passionate pair so when we broke up we fought just as passionately. Months of fighting in school and on the phone. Very public. Very embarrassing. I ran my mouth anyway. I didn’t know when to shut it off. It all came to a head one night while I was at a party at a friend’s house (a friend whose parents owned a liquor store……c’mon it was the 80’s and we were SUPER trustworthy teenagers!) and after a few games of quarters, a lot of rum, and several phone calls to his house he showed up. He wasn’t happy. We fought more. Before he drove off I had crawled up on the hood of his car screaming who knows what. I can only imagine what awful things I said because I don’t remember. There was more rum, a bathtub and throwing up, and then waking up the next morning naked and wrapped in a blanket on the kitchen floor. I wish I was exaggerating this memory, but I’m not. The fighting stopped. We barely spoke to one another again until a class reunion fifteen or twenty years later. In that last fight, I got the last word in. Did I win? Did it matter? No and no. Is it a memory and a regret that I’ve had for thirty years? Damn right it is. And it is a memory and a regret that reminds me to this day to deal with the things that comes my way in a little more classy manner. I learned that not everyone needs to see your drama (THANK GOD there was not Facebook or Youtube back then because that video would have gone viral). I learned that getting the last word in isn’t always needed.
I wish I could say that first experience was my last and I was a reformed arguer. It took a few more. My marriage was an eleven year lesson. The several years of my divorce, the final test. We didn’t discuss anything, we didn’t listen to one another, we simply argued. We spewed our hateful words onto one another without even caring what impact they would have or if they would even be heard. I learned that he just liked to egg me on to argue more and the more I engaged the more he egged me on. He seemed to enjoy my anger. Although I eventually learned the right things to say back to push his buttons I learned something even better. I learned to not engage, he wasn’t really listening anyway. When I stopped it made him even angrier and it made me feel better and less stressed. I found that there was power in silence. I found that there was peace in that silence. That silence helped me win, in my own mind, with my children, in the courtroom and I aced that final test.
When I see people going through the same sort of thing, publicly posted on Facebook for all to see, I tend to send private messages. I don’t do it to chastise anyone. I do it because I want them to know that power and peace. It is a much better feeling than frustration and loss and at the end of the day there is never that nasty, stale taste of regret left in your mouth (or on your Facebook wall).
With the advent of technology the art of arguing has risen to a whole new level. People who may not have previously been inclined to engage in a face to face confrontation are easily able to hide behind laptop screens and keyboards. Their words have gotten sharper. Their opinions have gotten louder. It has become so easy for people to call others names and to disparage another’s opinion or lifestyle. We are a faceless bunch of bullies carelessly hacking out malicious words into the world to people we don’t even know. People argue just for the sake of arguing. I rarely engage in political topics on the internet for this reason. People don’t want to hear your opinion, they want you only to hear theirs and damn you if you don’t agree. There is rarely discussion. During this past election I’ve realized that politics these days resembles what was once my marriage….and it ain’t pretty, my friends.
I will discuss politics in person, with people I trust to have an intelligent two sided conversation and actually find it enjoyable. I can say that there are only a handful of people in my world that I trust to engage with though. I’ve encountered far too many people, even ones that I consider friends, in this past year hell bent on making sure we know what their opinions are and calling people “idiots” for thinking otherwise.
I’m not sure what experiences society today needs to go through to learn this lost art, but it needs to happen….and soon.
Arguing isn’t a bad thing. It shows passion. It can spur good conversation. But we need to learn to be silent sometimes and LISTEN.
Society needs to be humbled and we need to be kinder.
Maybe it just needs to end up screaming drunk and crawling on the hood of a car before it learns…..