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I remember an argument I had many years ago with my sister.
It’s kind of strange to say that I don’t remember the subject we were so passionate about, but I do remember getting in each others’ faces and yelling about something we clearly both thought we were absolutely right about.
Looking back on that terrible argument, I have no doubt that neither of us were actually listening to what the other was saying— only waiting to get a word in edgewise and screech out our retort to the ridiculous and obviously erroneous most recent comment.
And of course, neither of us was willing to concede and neither of us learned anything new about the others’ viewpoint. It was a waste of time and energy and caused an uncomfortable rift between us that lasted for a depressing amount of time.
As we head into yet another holiday season, we may be more likely to find ourselves in situations with people who have different opinions than we do. Office parties, get togethers with friends, and nights out are all great ways to take part in the holiday season, but as the world continues to present new challenges, opinions get deeper entrenched and people begin to get more passionate about defending their viewpoints.
Unfortunately, this all too often ends in situations not unlike the argument I had with my sister: a pointless waste of time and energy.
This holiday season, and every day thereafter, I encourage you to employ some new tactics. Ones that will allow you room to grow as a person, and a way to redirect time and energy where it would be much better spent.
I have found that when people are arguing passionately about something, it’s actually not because they fervently believe in what they are saying to be true. In fact, I’ve found that the opposite is usually the case. The louder and more heated someone is about a subject, the more they are generally seeking validation.
There is something in themselves, somewhere—conscious or not—that is telling them they aren’t entirely sure about what they are saying. They need to convince you, or the other family members in the room or the complete strangers at the next table, that they are right and you are wrong not (only) to hold glory over you, but to have their own beliefs affirmed by others.
Somewhere in their deepest selves, they don’t believe their own story and they need to be bolstered by some kind of outside force. Loud, obnoxious arguing is rarely because someone is right and wants to sway you to believe them, but rather because they have doubts, and aggression is so much more attractive to the mind than insecurity.
Think back over the really bad arguments you may have had in your own life. Really analyze the situation—not just what the subject matter was but how the information you were presenting made you feel. Was it true? Did you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was true? Did you do actual research to back that up (we’re talking beyond social media headlines here) or was it maybe just what you wanted to believe? What were you hoping to accomplish by engaging in an argument?
I think the first thing we all need to come to terms with is that researching anything these days is becoming exceptionally challenging. You can find a study out there to support almost any argument. Before you enter into any kind of debate, you need to stop and think about how sure you are of your own stance. It’s not easy to be openly curious about your own beliefs. In fact, it’s sometimes very hard to think that we might not have all the information we need to share an informed perspective—especially when we so fervently want to believe in the narrative that we’ve built up in our heads.
When you were in that argument, were you openly listening to what your adversary had to say? Were you learning any new information? If you’re like most, when you’re starting to get into a heated debate you’re just patiently waiting for the opportunity to get your next jab in rather than listening to the other side. Or maybe you did listen to the other side and there came a moment when your confidence in your opinion was shaken. I have never understood the saying “I hate to say I told you so,” because people love to say I told you so. I am no exception to that rule. Who doesn’t love to be right?
I encourage you to shift your mindset. We are all going to enter into conversations that we disagree with or find uncomfortable. That’s just a given in this life. If you find yourself disagreeing with someone, take a step back (physically, mentally, or both) and have a good look at the situation. What do you actually know about the subject at hand? How does it make you feel? Are you well informed and unbiased in your thoughts?
You might notice that if you are solid in your convictions, you likely don’t even feel like entering into any kind of heated debate, especially if the person you are coming up against is in any way hostile or aggressive. If you truly believe what you are saying, you won’t feel the need to convince other people—at least not in a loud, aggressive, bar fight fashion.
If you feel that maybe you have something to learn by keeping an open mind, you can try to engage the person in a conversation. Hopefully the other person is as open to learning your side of the story, but that doesn’t even need to be true in order for you to have a learning experience. If there is new perspective to be had, listen with a completely open mind. Maybe you learn more reason to believe in your original truth. Maybe you learn some new information. Maybe you begin to realize there were some aspects you didn’t understand.
Worst case scenario is you now have more information than you started with—never a bad position to be in. Best case scenario is the other person is also able to listen to your perspective and maybe you both learn something new.
This next part is tough: if you are in a situation where you realize that you didn’t have all of the information to make a great decision, don’t be so proud as to not acknowledge that fact. It doesn’t have to be in the moment with that person, but do take your newfound wisdom home and give it some proper thought.
Maybe you now realize that you need even more information. Maybe you realize that you were not quite right in how you were thinking about something. I encourage you to be someone who is constantly willing and able to change your viewpoint and your perspective based on new information provided. I can’t think of anything in this life that I would flat-out refuse to learn more about. I am certainly not going to agree with everyone I speak with, but I am not going to disregard new information when it comes from an authentic source.
A final point that can be frustrating, I know: Some people just can’t engage in a calm and rational discussion. Some people will only be out to prove you wrong and refuse to listen to anything you might have to say. There are times you might still want to listen to that person, even if it’s only to nod your head along as a way to understand their side, and even if they have no interest in your side of things. And remember, you don’t have to agree with what they are saying to listen to them and try to understand, and you don’t have to engage and waste precious time and energy on someone who can’t be bothered to listen.
If you feel you aren’t learning anything new, or if you feel the opposing person is aggressive or hostile, understand there is nothing you are going to be able to say or do to get that person to listen to your perspective—so know when to disengage. To an aggressive person, this might be seen as backing down. They might even laugh and say that you must agree with them because you’re not arguing anymore.
I encourage you to remember what I said at the beginning of this article: if you truly believe in your heart of hearts that your perspective is the truth, as best as you can know it, you won’t feel the urge to prove yourself to anyone.
I hope these tips help you to have constructive conversations and open your heart and mind to what other people have to say. I also hope that my words help you to see when it might be worth it to enter into a debate and when it’s better to walk away.
But more than anything, I hope that what you take away is that when you are true to yourself and secure in your knowledge, there is absolutely no need to go out into the world with anything to prove. If you are good in your heart and in your head, it no longer matters what anyone thinks. It’s only out of insecurity that people become hot heads, but you can find your calm in the craziness that this world has become.
So hold your ground and feel confident in your ability to keep an open mind. Learn when the opportunity presents itself, share when you can, and be true to yourself. Everything else will fall into place.