Why we invest emotion and energy and time into sparring with someone. Is it to be right? To win?
And when we win, what, exactly, do we come out with?
Is it riches? Spoils? Gifts and glory?
No, more often than not, the end of an argument is exhaustion and loneliness, regret and review.
We waste the precious time of this very day or this very hour or this very month or however long we let it go on just digging in our heels, hands on hips, insistent that it happened this way, I am right and you are wrong.
But the thing is, none of it matters. Right, wrong, who cares?
Take the example of an argument in business. The client is always right. The client is never right. Right doesn’t get the job done. Right protects a precious ego, makes someone inhabit their role, feel fulfilled with that title on the door and the capital letters on the business card.
But in work, we seek to change the world, to make a difference, to help. So where in there does argument actually fit?
I’m going to say that it doesn’t at all.
So take the example of an argument between lovers. Why, exactly, spend the time sparring with words when you can tumble between the sheets or run a marathon together?
The energy is the same, of course. I don’t quite understand why couples argue. Sick of one another? Too much time in tight spaces?
The burden and stress and responsibility of a shared life? Yes, it gets heavy, it gets hard, but to argue over it?
We want to be noticed, to be loved, to be heard, to matter, so perhaps we argue when we don’t feel we are getting what we want.
Surely, between parent and child the argument takes shape when the child wants something and the parent says no, and so, as a parent, I’ll pose the question: why do we say no?
To protect, surely, and to preserve innocence. Those are two good reasons.
No, you may not run into traffic. No, you may not go to an R-rated film that will destroy your sense of safety in the world. No, you may not have candy for dinner. No, you may not go to a concert unchaperoned.
But beyond safety and security, I’m not sure why we argue with our children, or put our foot down. It doesn’t make their lives better or our bonds stronger when we say no just because we can.
Too often, parents do this – exert their power because it’s there. I want to control everything, so I will say no because saying no is easier than finding a way to say yes.
I’ll argue that that is true in all relationships. So let’s say it again: saying no is easier than finding a way to say yes.
I remember this most vividly from my days as an Orthodox Jew. Jewish law is stringent and insistent, and there are many restrictions, but it is a legal system and within a legal system, there is always a way to skirt the law.
There is spirit of the law, of course, and letter of the law, but in honoring one, you can also observe the other. There are, admittedly, instances when it’s just verboten to do something and you have to say, ok, I can’t.
Take kosher food, for instance. You’re not supposed to eat non-kosher food. Plain and simple. (Check Leviticus for what kosher means.) But, rabbis decreed that if one-sixtieth of the food before you is non-kosher, you’re still ok.
So if a piece of pork falls into your pot of chicken soup, don’t worry. (The rabbi will likely ask you what the piece of pork was doing in your home and there may be social repercussions about that, but don’t worry about the law.)
You see, there are ways to say yes to things that might automatically be a no.
The argument for being observant in religion is to make a better, more fulfilling life, closer to God.
Well, then, if that’s the goal I might argue that not arguing is a good way to achieve it.
Finding ways to say yes, and I love you, and let’s go. Those phrases often lead to happiness and joy and connection, whereas the emphatic NOs, the indignant I-hate-yous, and the rigid you-can’ts create only rift, loneliness and despair.
It is wholly arrogant to argue.
To spend your time, your day, your weekend locking horns and battling it out, tears streaming down your face, barbs shouted across the emptiness of the careening car, is to say that you have the wealth to waste your time.
That there will be time to be joyful and loving and connected. That today, or now, you can waste with hatred and animosity. That it is more important to dig in and stand apart and reel in the knowledge of how deeply you can wound another.
There is no better word. Convince me that I’m wrong.