Why We Should Argue And How To Make It Worth It
Arguing used to be one of my favorite things. I’ve matured a bit, so I choose my arguments a little more wisely these days. Even though I feel like I’ve cut way back, I still admit that I enjoy taking on an argument, even about the dumbest of things.
I once created an argument with my wife about why it was stupid that society made such a big deal about men putting the toilet seat down. And I think it was probably late at night, when she got up to go to the bathroom or something. It was not a good argument to have, ever, but especially not in the middle of the night.
I laid out a pretty good case. I wondered why men should have to put the seat up. Aren’t women capable of putting the seat down? Shouldn’t it we both take the responsibility for putting the toilet seat the way we want it, rather than forcing the other party to get it right for us? As for the argument about women sitting down and falling in the toilet, that was ridiculous (or so I argued). Couldn’t she just check before she sat down in toilet water? I think I even implied, not so subtly, that if a woman wasn’t willing to take on the easy task of checking for the seat, rather than just blindly sitting down, then maybe falling in the water was a reasonable consequence.
It was a bad argument.
The truth is, I just enjoy making an argument. Even a stupid one. At the wrong time. Some people are even more extreme than I am. Some people build their lives on arguing. I don’t mean professionally, though that does exist. I mean, some people have made arguing a part of who they are, to the point that they are difficult to be around, they are always right, and they challenge everyone on everything, with some sort of reason about why their way is the best.
Other people are on the other end of the spectrum. They don’t (or so they think) like to argue. They’d rather everything be peaceful and agreeable and everyone get along as much as possible.
But I’d like to push back on this a bit, if you’ll allow it, and posit that everyone likes an argument, maybe just not the “middle of the night toilet seat” variety. Hear me out.
For those who don’t identify with the arguing for argument’s sake, I would argue that we all like to argue, from time to time, for our limitations.
When we argue for our limitations, we get to keep them.
We are ready and willing, at most any time, to argue for those things that will get in the way, keep us from, hold us back, or challenge us. “Smart” people start statements with, “The problem with _____ is…” Ahhh, how wise of you to recognize and point out the problem.
We can’t speak in front of a group because, “I’m just not good in front of a group.”
I used to love this one, as a school teacher, “I’m just not a good test taker.”
The ever present, “I would like to, I just don’t have time.”
I want to be good at relationships, but “I’m just not good at relationships.”
Whatever it is. We love to point out our shortcomings. In essence, we are arguing for our limitations. And because of that, we’ll continue to have them.
I understand the pushback of “reality”, and strengths and weaknesses, and that whole book of “proof”. I just don’t subscribe to it as the closing argument. At the very least, if I were arguing with you (and I am not), I would say that those things are fine to believe, but if that is the case, then you should quit complaining or stating that you want things that are in conflict with those strong arguments you are making. In other words, stop arguing, just keep your limitations.
No longer should we say, “I want to be a good parent, my job just takes so much out of me.” Or, “I really want ______, but I can’t because _____.”
If you want your limitation, and you demand that it is true and powerful, and real, then you should absolutely hang on to it. But you should also quit acting like the other thing is so important.
If that has hurt your feelings, I really am sorry. Sometimes that is an unfortunate by product of my arguing.
Hang on a minute, let me offer another perspective.
I believe strongly that we should argue. Just not about stupid things like toilet seats and limitations.
We don’t have to pretend limitations don’t exist, anymore than we should pretend that the toilet seat rule isn’t a little bit ridiculous, especially with all of the progress we’ve made in gender equality. However, we can choose where to put our focus, and I believe that focus should be on what we want, who we want to be, what we can do, what we do believe, rather than on all the things that we are so certain will get in the way.
There is little, in a marriage, that is so little that it is not worth fighting about. You’re stuck in a marriage like the two proverbial cats in a barrel, bound by the oath that lasts in theory until one or both of you die. That oath is there to make you take the damn situation seriously. Do you really want the same petty annoyance tormenting you every single day of your marriage, for the decades of its existence?
There are some things worth arguing about. I love Jordan Peterson’s quote because I believe that we should be willing to argue in our marriage, in a healthy manner, so as not to sow resentment in a lifelong relationship over something small because we decided it would just be easier or nicer not to say anything.
I watch my daughter play sports, and everyone, all the time, no matter what happens, is saying, “It’s okay, good try!” When people make the same mistake for the 100th time, or forget to do something that shouldn’t be forgotten, everyone likes to pat everyone on the back and say, “It’s okay!”
They are still young and learning, so, I guess it is okay, but I long for the day when they begin to realize that there is a difference between being a good teammate and being a nice teammate, and that everything is not always okay.
Nice teammates, nice husbands, nice wives, and nice bosses tell you that everything is okay, even when it’s not. And this will go right along until the competition heats up, or the relationship is on the brink of collapse, or the company starts to suffer, at which point, things will probably hit a crescendo that could have been avoided if only people wouldn’t have pretended that everything was okay for so long.
Good teammates, good spouses, good bosses, realize that the relationship, the pursuit, and the job is too important to just pretend like all is okay. What is okay, is telling people the truth in love. What is okay is caring enough about the competition to challenge your teammates to do better, to try harder, to focus in more. It’s okay to let your spouse know what habits they have that bother you, and it’s okay for them to do the same.
Some things are worth arguing for.
If you don’t want to argue with someone else, I understand. I have tried hard to move beyond that myself. If that’s not in your personality, I get it, but I do want to urge you to at least be willing to argue with yourself about the things that matter, rather than about your limitations.
As long as your focus is on those things that you cannot do, or the “realities” that are in the way of your dreams, then that is where you will stay.
If you think that maybe, you’d like to turn the tables a bit, I have one bit of encouragement. One actionable way we can flip the script, is to pay attention to our buts.
I wrote about this awhile back (you can read it here), but the premise is this:
Consider the limiting statements you make, then consider switching around your but.
For example, “I want to ________, but I am just so tired after a long day of work.”
Try this. “I am so tired after a long day of work, but I want to __________”
“I have an opportunity so speak about my new project at work, but I am not a good public speaker.”
Or, “I am not a good public speaker (yet), but, I have a great opportunity to speak about my new project at work.”
Whether we realize it or not, or are willing to admit it or not, we are going to argue for something, either with others or with ourselves.
You can choose which side of the table you want to argue from. Your limitations vs. your growth. Your reality vs. the potential rewards.
Either way, I’m pulling for you,
I work with small business owners and entrepreneurs to help them create a business and a life that can thrive together. If you’d like to learn more, or if you’d like to share my information with someone that might benefit, you can do so here: www.bryanhendley.com