“You’ve always had a reputation as a very argumentative person,” Paddy asserted.
“Unfortunately, yes,” I admitted.
“Well,” Paddy observed, “if you think it was unfortunate, then why did you argue so much?”
“A number of reasons,” I answered. “First of all, in the course of my work I did a lot of negotiating, and that required a lot of argument.
“I’m not talking about those arguments,” Paddy said, “I’m talking about your reputation as a person who seemed to generally like to argue.”
“Actually,” I countered, “I think most of my arguments could be more correctly be called debates.”
“Well,” Paddy countered in turn, “I’ve seen you argue for what seemed to be just the sake of arguing, so let’s stick with argument rather than debate. Why did you argue so much?”
“I enjoyed being challenged,” I answered. “We learn more from people who disagree with us than we do from people who agree with us.”
“Maybe,” Paddy allowed and then asked, “What’s the most important thing you learned about arguments, or is that too hard to say?” Paddy asked.
“No,” I replied, “it’s very easy to say. The most important thing I learned is that most arguments are a waste of time.”
Well,” Paddy said, “I’ve always thought that arguments just interrupt discussions. I also think that a long, drawn-out argument proves that neither side is right.”
“Probably, but the participants may just be either stubborn or bad debaters,” I observed. “However, you’re right about arguments causing discussions to get off the rails, and that usually happens because many people don’t recognize the signs that an argument is underway.”
“Like what?” Paddy asked.
“Like when someone says that ‘they agree in principle.’ At that point the argument is already underway; and usually only one person realizes it. And ‘yes, but’ is another example that the argument has started,” I told him.
“So,” Paddy asked, “what’s another important aspect of arguments you learned?”
“A lot of arguments could be avoided if people considered hostile questions as simply requests for information,” I answered. “And another thing I learned is that it’s almost impossible to reason people out of something they weren’t reasoned into.”
“It’s true that it’s hard to deal with unreasonable people without getting into an argument,” Paddy agreed.
“Arguments for and against usually vary in importance with a person’s point of view,” I said. “My father had a saying that applies here,” I went on. “He always said that the best way to prove that a stick is crooked is to just lay a straight stick beside it.”
“Well,” Paddy asked, “if you’re not arguing about sticks, what’s the best way to handle someone taking a totally ridiculous position?”
“Silence,” I told him. “Ignorance produces a lot of interesting arguments, but again to quote another adage: ‘never get into a peeing fight with a skunk.’ Another thing to remember is that arguing with extremists is a complete waste of time. The best thing to do is just change the subject. Remember that relenting isn’t the same as agreeing.”
“On the other hand,” Paddy observed, “it’s really frustrating to argue with people who actually know what they’re talking about, isn’t it?”
“I never felt that way,” I said. “As I alluded to earlier, it was when arguing with people who were knowledgeable about a subject that I learned things. But, most arguments aren’t rooted in knowledge, they’re rooted in opinion, and somebody’s opinion doesn’t make something a fact. So I always probed to see if the so-called knowledge was based on fact or opinion.
“So what frustrated you the most in your arguments?” was Paddy’s next question.
“Really nothing,” I told him. “But I can tell you what the most annoying thing was.”
“What was that?” he logically asked.
“Having someone supporting my side of an argument who I wished was supporting the other side,” I said,
“Okay,” Paddy moved on, “let’s get back to your statement that most arguments are a waste of time; anything else to add?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “I eventually realized that all arguments, even when necessary, are counter-productive in some way. I wish I’d recognized that earlier.”
“You think arguing is counter-productive even when you’re right?” Paddy asked.
“Yes.” I answered. “Even though it’s true that the best way to win an argument is to be right; if you win all your arguments you might lose all your friends.”
“What about some basic rules of arguing?” Paddy asked.
“Probably the most important one,” I suggested “is that issues should always be separated from personalities. Never let the fact that a person annoys you, or that you don’t like them, get in the way. You may be forced to disagree with someone, but being disagreeable is a choice. Also, remember that there are bigger fools than people who think they know everything.”
“Who’s that?” Paddy asked.
“The people who argue with them,” I told him.
“What about tone of voice?” Paddy asked.
“Good point” I said. “There’s no need to shout if the right words are used; raising your voice is the first sign that you’re losing an argument.”
“Anything else?” Paddy asked.
“Know when to end it,” I told him. “It takes two to start an argument, but one can end it; and sometimes being the one to end it makes you the one who wins it. As I said earlier, relenting isn’t the same as agreeing.”
“Is that all?” Paddy asked.
“No,” I said, “I’ve left the most important point to the last.”
“And that is,” Paddy prodded.
“When disagreeing with a loved one, deal only with the current situation; never bring up the past.”