Arguing has been on my mind a lot this week. It's not just because of what has been going on in the news, but my students have actually been learning how to argue or debate this week as well, and I couldn't be prouder of these young people. I thought I'd share a few moments from my week.
#1 - When we first started working on arguing, I asked my students what they thought was the purpose of arguing. The overwhelming answer was something about proving your point. No, not quite. The goal of an argument is not to win, but to understand and to be understood.
I decided we should practice arguing using a very hot topic on whether we should limit salt in our diets - something every young person feels passionately about (NOT!) At one point of the discussion, one student jumped up to make his point with passion. His voice rose and it became obvious that he KNEW his point would annihilate the argument of his fellow classmate. At that moment I said, "Freeze! Nobody move!" I then pointed out the young man's "opponent" and her body language. She sat there with her arms crossed and pushed back into her seat. I asked my students what did her body language tell us. They all agreed that she looked angry and defensive. I then asked, "Do you think she will be won over at this point by the other "arguments"?" The response was a resounding "NO!" Then I demonstrated the way to disagree without being disagreeable...probably one of the most important lessons I think I've taught all year.
I even shared a personal story that had happened on Facebook. In an attempt to reach out to an old friend who was upset about the way the election had gone and how angry she was at anyone who had voted for the other candidate. I opened a dialogue intended to reaffirm that despite differences of opinion, people could still be friends. Before I could finish typing a second response to her, one of her other "friends" jumped in and basically cussed me out, dropping the "f" bomb more than once. (The response from my students was an expected "Oooooooooo!" My students see me as someone who does not back down, I guess.) I shared with my students that I knew I could have a sharp tongue. My first response was to start typing a very snappy response, and I am a very fast typer! Then I felt that little nudge inside that said, "Stop. This is not the way," so I took my finger and pressed "delete, delete, delete" until all my "perfect" comebacks had disappeared from the screen. Instead I typed, "I am sorry that you felt this was the best way to respond to someone who was truly reaching out a hand of friendship." It pretty much ended the Facebook conversation.
One of my students blurted out - "Whoa, you killed her with kindness!" I had to agree but told him that was not my intention. My intention was to build a bridge of understanding...because that is what arguing is supposed to be, listening and talking to each other to understand. I had them copy a quote that said, "Don't raise your voice, improve your argument." ~ Desmond Tutu. "Improve your argument," I like that.
#2 - I learned a new appreciation for a young friend of mine who loves to argue. A lot of my personal friends can guess who this might be. I used to joke that if I was holding an apple, Channing would argue it was an orange. I don't think I've ever met someone who truly seemed to ENJOY arguing like this young man. I need to also state that I truly admire this young man who I've known since birth. He is a thinker like none other I know. But this week, my appreciation for him grew even more because I now think there is a method to his madness that I'm not sure even he recognizes. Every time Channing questions what someone says, he is attempting to understand and even more than that, he is challenging the other person to examine and understand what they have said. When I say I believe something, I need to able to clearly explain WHY I believe it. WHY is this the viewpoint I hold? I can't rely on hearsay or opinion, I need to be ready to give my evidence. I have to admit, this often frustrates me because it causes me to have to really THINK and since it usually happens at the end of the day or on the weekend, my brain is tired. But it does give me something to think about along the way. I examine my evidence. Can't say he's ever changed my mind, but he has caused me to make sure I really believe what I say I do. You've got to love someone like that.
#3 - I don't like to argue, mainly because I can have a very sharp tongue and, though I've been accused of many things, being soft spoken has never been one of them. To avoid this in the past, I have simply shut my mouth and avoided the subject all together. But now, I am trying to spend more time listening and learning to articulate my reasoning to those who are also ready to listen and begin a dialogue. We may not change each others' opinion, but at least we will be able to understand each other and see each other as friends with different opinions instead of enemies...and that's what true arguing is supposed to do. (Now if I could only get those who disagree with me to see that this is the purpose for arguing in life.)
I'm sure there are other things that I've learned, but I've already talked too much. Let's just say, I think I learn more in my classes than my kids and I'm so thankful for the opportunity to help instruct the future. I tell them, they are already farther along than some adults I know. Now to learn from my own lessons. I may fail at times, but I truly want to understand and be understood. I don't want to "argue" as the world knows it, but as it was originally intended to be used.
Happy arguing, my friends.
1 Peter 3:15-18 (Message)
Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.
Proverbs 15: 1, 4
1 A gentle response defuses anger,
but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.
4 Kind words heal and help;
cutting words wound and maim.
Excerpt from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (by the way, this is a letter from the "head demon, Screwtape" to his protege, Wormwood.)