I almost titled this “How to Effectively Argue with Someone when you Have an Overwhelming Desire to Rip Out and Pulverize their Soul (or Force-Educate Them Because I’m Right and I Know it So Listen to Me)”. The fact that I simultaneously post these articles on LinkedIn as well is the ONLY thing stopping me.
Ask my Mom, Dad, and siblings: I’m an arguer. About 95% of people see me as sweet, caring, and non confrontational, and they’re right. Honestly, this is how I normally am and this is how I prefer to be. More often than not, I find myself in the middle of arguments, trying to mediate between two parties other than myself. A few years back, I even started a Dear Abby-esque relationship blog (which I will NOT link to unless expressly asked) wherein I gave people advice about cheating girlfriends, backstabby friends, and iguana-napping ex-husbands (kidding…but what a great/terrible potential story).
Only about 5% of humans ever witness the Incredible Hulk of Arrogance and Opposition that lurks within. Let me explain.
The Vitriolic Variance (sadly, not a new Lemony Snicket title)
About six weeks ago, I noticed that an acquaintance of mine posted something that was disparaging towards media darling Caitlyn Jenner. While I have my own reservations about the methods of the Kardashian Clan, I was stoked that Caitlyn’s recognition seemed to be bringing about greater awareness and understanding of the transgender community. The post looked something like this:
(Insert trite argument about Caitlyn Jenner not deserving the ESPY award and not being a hero)
(Insert patently unfunny transphobic meme for maximum effect)
As you can see from my descriptions, I’m still not willing to cave and say that what my friend posted was okay. Harassment and violence towards transgender people is rampant and over 40% of transgender teens have attempted suicide. Obviously, I don’t think ignorance in this area is a laughing matter. However…
I kind-of-sort-of reacted like a two-year-old, pulling the old “acrimonious comment on post + unfriending” combo. I figured that by both commenting on this issue for the world (read: my friend’s friends) to see and unfriending the perpetrator I would send a clear and effective message. The intended message? “You’re a douchebag and should feel bad about yourself and everyone should call you out you big douchebag”. The actual message sent? “I’m a coward and a knee-jerk-reactor and now I look really immature and maybe I’m kind of being a douchebag”.
I admit, I literally huffed and puffed while I wrote my response. I had banged on my computer keys so hard that I feared I would have to call my university’s tech repair group to get a new keyboard. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears. And I reacted with as much rash passion as I was feeling in my veins.
To make a long story short, my friend and I argued back and forth until I got so frustrated with his “lack of intellectual compliance” (as I would arrogantly and Kim Jong Il-ishly put it to a friend later*) and blocked him. In other words, I rounded out my asshat behavior with more asshat behavior.
Don’t react when you want to the most
The biggest mistake I made was responding to that post immediately after I saw it. I’m willing to admit that my internal thoughts on the matter were valid and unavoidable. But my actions, the arguably more important piece, were not controlled properly.
If you see something on the Internet that upsets you, I think it would behoove you to wait at least 20 minutes to process what the F you just read. For all you know, there was no harm intended. At worst, you can decide that the person making the comment isn’t worth arguing with.
Since I respected and liked my friend (despite not having seen him for a couple years), my reaction should’ve involved waiting and politely messaging him. But I didn’t, so I’m here with something to write about instead (hey…silver lining, right?).
Obviously, tactfully reacting to something in real time is even more challenging. So what should you do? Lie and say you agree with them? Awkwardly stare and let your eyes bulge out of their sockets? Start yelling random things out and when the person asks you what’s wrong, run away screaming that you have to poop? (Maybe, uh, use that last one sparingly.)
I hate people telling me to breathe, but I’m going to go full hypocrite on you right now: the first step is to breathe. The second step is to let them talk as much as possible to get the full sense of what they’re saying. No matter how mad you are, the best things to say are things like: “I respectfully disagree, but I’m happy that you shared your point of view with me.” If you so choose, you can then proceed to detail exactly why you disagree.
Don’t put people into categories
I pride myself on not being judgmental, but even I am so full of crap when I say that.
If someone doesn’t support gay marriage, my gut reaction is that they are “ignorant” to me. If someone doesn’t believe in evolution, they are “misinformed” to me. Playing this sort of categorization game is not only judgmental, but damaging to your relationships.
Things are not black and white. We forget that there’s also ivory and ecru, gunmetal and glaucous (yes…that’s an actual color, even though it sounds like the technical term for eyeboogers or something). In other words, people should’t be seen as “good” or “bad”, but should be evaluated based on the sum of their experiences, beliefs, and actions. That means that, yes, a person can be smart and hold views on abortion, gun laws (note: I accidentally typed “fun laws” at first – coincidence?), or church vs. state that are diametrically opposed to yours.
Don’t have a goal of changing someone’s mind
When we are trying to make people act in our best interests, we get a little aggressive. And with this aggression, we get no closer to converting them to our school of thought than we do converting the Pope to Scientology.
People with staunch beliefs don’t take kindly to people trying to change their beliefs, so don’t try to do that. Focus on presenting your view calmly and logically, knowing that – gasp! – you might not (and probably won’t) win the argument. At the very least, your opponent with see you as reasonable and level-headed, even if they still disagree with you. This is much better than making an impassionate case yet looking like a tool. Trust me.
Again, consider my little anecdote a lesson. Having had (and still having) plenty of friends and family members who I disagree with politically but love and respect enduringly, I’m kind of an expert at this. Should you get an urge to throw a chair at someone you’re arguing with, just breathe, listen, and for both of your sakes, agree to disagree.
-H, Liberal Lunatic/Aggressive Arguer/Kind and Loving Soul
*Thanks to this little remark, I’ll probably never be allowed to go to North Korea, which I’ve always been curious to visit. Great. 🙁