By Laura Moore
And I don't mean on the good kind of arguments: the ones where two parties tackle open issues--thousand sided issues--in an effort to sway back and forth across various shades of gray.
I mean black and white arguments that fail to follow any sort of protocol. The kind where each side talks loudly from behind pre-drawn lines in the sand. The sorts of exchanges where decisions have already been made, and the owners of those decisions are not willing to revisit them, to roll them over or to cut them open.
For a while, I entered those debates with a false sense of valiancy. I felt responsible for educating my opponents about my position on an issue, and if I neglected to do so--or to do so adequately enough--then the other person would walk away without hearing both sides, without seeing the full picture.
Oh how righteous I felt.
Oh what a jerk I was.
See that mindset--and the behavior resulting from that mindset--is toxic. It eats away at individuals and relationships. It inspires a feigned sense of empowerment, and it screams and yells and edges out those who are less aggressive, even when--and especially when--the less aggressive people have something important to say.
When someone takes the opposing side to issues tugging at my heart strings, I can feel my blood pressure rise and my stomach churn. My thoughts spray like semi-automatic weapons, and in truth, I probably only listen to one in every three things the other person shouts. Lodged in a defensive state, I take the one thing I hear and I twist it and I turn it and I beat it like a fragile yolk. I search for rhetorical grenades. I try to present the other side as ridiculous. I strive to make my views so appealing no one could possibly disagree.
But the other person does the exact same thing, and the noise we create in our pointless war makes it impossible to hear, makes it impossible to think, makes it impossible to move our feet in any direction whatsoever--any direction, except back.
Our discussion is not productive or valiant. We are not persuasive game changers; we're narcissistic pontificators. We're both waiting for contradictions, for over-stepping stereotypes, for hypocrisies. We're each looking for the chance to site articles or interviews or research so we can be right. And when the wake subsides, regardless of where it trailed along the shore, deep down, both of us probably feel horrible about every single part of our interaction.
At least, I know I do.
Don't get me wrong, I think it is important for one to stand up for his/her interpretation of truth and justice, but I think it is equally important for us to know how to do that. Issuing a round of verbal crossfire does not yield unilateral results. Spouting off the longest list of "facts" does not necessarily denote a victory, and tossing pseudo-intellectual quips toward someone who does not understand the sarcasm, does not make one unequivocally more right than their vulnerable opponent.
It just makes that person feistier (and insufferably more arrogant).
And it often inspires a deeper trench between people. It does not bring anyone closer. It does not make anyone's point clearer. It does not increase the troops fighting for any one cause.
It just divides.
It makes the world louder and angrier. It raises walls capped with barbed wire spikes. It inspires shields and muffles ears and perpetuates toxic narratives. It gets attention, but it doesn't make people change.
If we want true change, we need to open ears and eyes and minds. We need to listen to one another: even if we disagree, even if we hate the other side, even if we think we know the answers. We need to listen to the words, to the stories, to the subtext, to the ideas, to the emotions, to the feelings, to the fears, to the hopes, to the dreams, to the frustrations, to the obstacles. We need to share our ideas, but once we do, we need to sit down, zip our mouths, and listen. We need to temporarily halt our selfish whims so we can think about how our actions impact others. We need to make an effort to empathize with experiences, we need to consider other narratives, we need to accept the fact that the world might not be what we think it is.
Because maybe if we open up, maybe if we try to find common ground, maybe if we step outside of our own experiences, maybe if we let people speak even if they don't have all of the right words, maybe if we think about how our version of justice impacts theirs, maybe if we think about the consequences of both action and inaction, we might find a way to tear down the seemingly insurmountable barriers between us.
See despite our differences, most of us just want what we perceive to be fair. We want what we think is right. And because we all have slightly different opinions about what that means, if we want to move forward, away from all of the noise, we need to consider a variety of interpretations of what right entails.
We need to listen to both traditional and nontraditional voices. Really listen--not so we can trounce on stories, experiences or ideas by calling one another names--so we can learn why people feel the way they do. So we can escape flying fingers, cruel euphemisms, and glass shattering decibels, and actually arrive in a reasonable space where we can not just coexist but co-thrive. So we can feel safe enough to admit we have much to learn. So we can help our loud monologues evolve into constructive dialogues. So we can give our ideas a chance to inspire epiphanies and partnership and progress. So we can help our children find a way to begin smearing lines.
I don't know about you, but this is my goal for the final weeks of the year....and all the ones that follow.