the futility of arguments

The world often spins far too fast for me. Blogging was on the back-burner for June for many reasons, many of them job related, but I don't talk about my job online. June was just a frustrating, fearful month for me for many reasons, and when I am afraid, I often turn to anger to cover my fear.

I have no intention of discussing these tribulations online, because I have a strong rule about blogging and some subjects are completely off-limits. I never discuss family, work, or writing colleagues on my blog. A blog post is public and once I've published it, I have lost complete control over where those words go. I don't have the right to invade other people's privacy.

The political and SFF fronts also had a lot of anger. There were so things I wanted to say but I held back for many reasons. I consider my writing work, as well, so I refrained from commenting too much online. With my writing colleagues, I will write reviews or editorials or even rebuttals; however, even then, I refrain from writing judgments about another person's character. I try to maintain my focus on principles, not personalities, because it is all to easy to descend into character assassination.

I keep my negative words, which can be harsh and unforgiving, for my private face-to-face encounters with the other individual. I want to look into the other person's eyes when I say what I have to say, because when I look into an individual's eyes, I remember that he or she is human and fallible and deserving of kindness and forgiveness as I am. When I look into another person's eyes, I can temper my words, because if I see that the individual is confused or hurt, I realize his or her mistake might be honest error. It's also possible that I misinterpreted the other person's intent or words. If I see arrogance or rage, I know to sharpen the exchange, but I will only say what I have to say and move on.

I don't argue. Arguments are an exercise in futility, especially when both parties are utterly convinced of their righteousness and especially online where we tend to throw words at one another like stones.

Most often, these online discussions begin sanguinely enough, then about five or six comments in, they degenerate into a nuclear war filled with f-bombs and ugliness. Words written or said in anger invoke first defensiveness, then retaliatory anger; communication disintegrates and nothing is resolved.

There is a lot to be angry about nowadays, and I don't blame a lot of you for that anger. I understand it, probably more intimately than some of you will ever know. I've experienced abuses that I do not feel comfortable talking about online and only my most intimate family members know about the trials that I've suffered. I have spent a long time and a lot of money getting my head straight, and I know that when the anger begins to consume me, it's time for me to back off.

I can only speak for myself and through my experiences. Your experiences will be different and as unique to you as mine are to me. You have to live with the ramifications of your actions, so you must use whatever tactics are at your disposal how you see fit.

This I know: anger is deadly to me. So I've had to disengage from some of you. It's not that I feel like what you're saying is wrong or even badly said, but I cannot stay in a constant state of rage. For the sake of my mental health, I have had to disengage somewhat.

Does this mean that I keep my outrage silent? No. It means that I say my harsh truths directly to the individual's face. Ask people who have known and met me and they will tell you that I speak what is in my heart, sometimes eloquently, sometimes profanely, but I will not lie to you, or for you.

In an effort to control my own anger, I often turn to a favorite translation of Taoist works by Lin Yutang. Chuangtse directed a lengthy passage against the argumentative philosophers of his time and he cautions that arguing never truly solves a problem. He says:

The right may not be really right. What appears so may not be really so. Even if what is right is really right, wherein it differs from wrong cannot be made plain by argument. Even if what appears so is really so, wherein it differs from what is not so also cannot be made plain by argument.*

Chuangtse reminds me not to jump to conclusions and that arguments do not provide neat resolutions to differences. Balance is necessary in all things and arguing brings discord and imbalance to all decisions, because rhetoric can override reason.

Another favorite is Emerson, who said, "The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation, perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right, and calms itself with knowing that all things go well."**

Stand up for what you believe in with all of your passion but also remember to be compassionate. Online, we tend to talk AT one another, rather than talk TO one another--the difference between these two things is very clear. Most importantly, we should LISTEN to one another.

If you want the right to be wrong, extend that same courtesy to others, and remember that sometimes you're not going to change the other person's viewpoint. Sometimes, you just have to agree to disagree and walk away before someone pops a blood vessel. I know I am most effective at changing others when I am assertive and grounded and when I met the individual eye to eye. That is when my battles will be fought, when I can look into your face and gauge the effect of my words. Whenever I am in a heated exchange, I remember that it takes two to argue and I always have the option to walk away. I exercise that option liberally, for my own mental health.


*The Wisdom of Laotse, Lin Yutang.

**Emerson's essay on Self-Reliance