The problem with arguments is that to have one you need to have a position and at least one other person needs to have a position that isn’t yours. You need a specific perspective and you need to be attached to yours just as they need to be attached to theirs. That attachment creates your grip on the argument. Then, you each try to move the other from where they are now to where you want them to be, but the truth is you just can’t be happy with your life with all of that wanting and attachment.
It’s difficult for me to describe why a band of early Native North Americans would not have had any arguments. Individual people could sit and talk in an igloo but back then they still didn’t see each other as separate individuals. They had no genders or other identities that were separate from others. Their existence was always in relation to the larger whole. You were like that too when you were a baby, but you had us keep poking at your unbroken reality of oneness until we convinced you that there are separate entities with separate names doing separate things and only one can be called “right.” This is when you bit the apple of knowledge.
Meanwhile, back with the native band, no one decided anything and announced it to the group and no Chief vetted it all. Any discussion would be a conversation with one entity with many voices. It might be best to metaphorise it into the idea of your body. Your mind might want you to stay out later and get drunk but your liver would prefer that you didn’t. They’re both made of your cells and the parts have different names but in the end it’s all you. So it is with a tribe of people who do not have thoughts of a separate self.
So how can this help you every day in your life? It can make you realise that arguments are ego-creations and they are created for their own sake. You’ve won lots of arguments you shouldn’t have. We’ve all found out as we’ve grown up that we were wrong about all kinds of things, but if that can happen pretty much throughout our lives, one wonders why we allow ourselves to get so sure and so attached to an idea?
Winning an argument is like a lottery ticket. Odds are strongly that we’d be unhappy even if we we won, but because the idea of a lottery includes ideas like winning and money and rich, we tell ourselves we’ve won even when we’ve placed ourselves in the group that’s statistically likely to be unhappy. That’s how important ideas can get.
We argue for our own demise all the time. That’s how half the marriages end. Today someone will argue themselves out of their marriage. Weird eh? You could win every single argument and the net result would be you’d break up the most important relationship in your life. So what is this winning stuff anyway?
Winning requires those positions to be taken and those attachments to be made. Winning also requires a loser. So the question is, do you really want to take your most important relationships and then lower their quality in pursuit of a victory over a loved one? You want to make your spouse or child or parent feel like a loser? Intentionally? Because that’s what an argument really is. It’s not you holding on the correct position, it’s you trying to move someone from where they are to where you are. No one can be right because neither of you knows the future or if you might find out if you’re wrong.
You cannot win an argument. To do so is to create discord. You might win an argument that you should move to the family to Boston but even if everyone ended up happier there, they wouldn’t be happy because you were right, you would have still needed their full cooperation with finding enjoyable lives in the new city because a bad attitude can easily turn an otherwise good experience into a bad one. If they don’t cooperate however–and they’re less likely to if they’re upset–then you can find yourself in the same situation as many people who won arguments they later wish they’d never started.
You have to start seeing the struggle of an argument as the pain associated with pushing yourself apart from another. There are only two motions in the universe, recognising oneness and believing in separateness. Recognising oneness is when we seek peace and ego is when we insist on our separateness and argue for its dimensions. Seeking peace is a much different feeling than arguing for separateness.
This is critical: you have to begin steering your life with feelings rather than ideas. Ideas are abstract ego-possessions that can be argued over whereas feelings are experiences and no one can tell you what your experience of something is, they can only respect your expression of it. If steering by ideas helped then the individuals in this world would be in a lot better shape than they we are. Instead, as we’ve gotten more and more ideas we just create more and more opportunities for more and more arguments.
Put down all of the words. Seek peace. Actually pause to ask yourself what winning an argument will really get you when it’s all tolled. Because when the monk Thomas Aquinas took a vow of silence, he both ensured he would never win nor ever lose another argument. And that can be a very nice way to live.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.