Or – Using Our Words, Part 2, just in time for the holidays!
Recent events have found me thinking a lot this week about the ways we interact with each other, our different styles of communication, especially when we have a difference of opinion. I love a good argument with family or friends. I always have. I count this as another instance where my Italian genes from my mother have completely overridden the others. This side of the family was always arguing! (Of course you throw a little Irish and a little French in there and it was all “party” all the time). I always said they were either throwing dishes or making love, there was no middle ground.
This is cultural, not everyone gets it. It was perplexing to my father’s English family whose solution to any problem was to ignore, repress, or just stop speaking to you forever and pretend you never existed. I think overall my mother’s family was healthier. They were more capable of forgiving and moving on. It is healthier to get things out on the table, hash them over, and then be able to put them away again. I also discovered as I got older that you don’t argue with people you don’t care about. If I am engaging in a debate with you it is because you matter to me in some way. Your opinion matters, your feelings matter.
Now I should probably clarify. A good argument does not involve violence. (Although if I am honest I will have to admit I may or may not have sacrificed a piece of glassware on more than one occasion to prove a point, and maybe one remote control, but that is another story). A good argument does not involve belittling or tearing the other person down. It is not vicious or sarcastic. A good argument is one in which we are both passionately and intelligently debating an issue. It is also one in which we are both respectful of each other’s values and belief systems. A good argument involves both of us trying to understand the path the other has walked. It involves us acknowledging that we each have had different life experiences that have shaped us in ways the other might not ever understand. A good argument involves admitting when we are wrong, or misinformed, or just taking out our own stuff out on someone else. A good argument doesn’t have to end with one of us changing the other’s mind but should end with both of us having learned something new, or seen something from a new angle. A good argument means we both walk away with a lot more to think about.
Of course when we are younger we may get a little carried away sometimes with our passion for an issue and that is okay (again, the remote control story, for another time). Yet, as we age we hopefully gain a sense of equanimity. While I may argue passionately with you, when the day is over I am perfectly willing to shake hands and agree to disagree. I don’t worry that it will end our relationship, I don’t feel the need to even question our friendship based on differences of opinion. I consider it a gift to have people in my life who will challenge me, who I can challenge in return. I consider it a privilege that we can keep each other on our toes and that we can prevent each other from falling into complacency. I can honestly say I have learned something from almost every single person the Universe has brought into my life at one point or another. (Now that’s not to say all those lessons were positive, but lessons are lessons and there is always something to take away from them). And if you weren’t challenging, reflective, intelligent or honest in your arguments with me, well I have probably have just let you drift on back out of my life again and that’s okay to. I’ve learned at this age to surround myself with quality people. In fact, I demand it, because those crazy, loud, passionate people, those are the ones that actually change the world!
That being said, those of us who are a little more outspoken may occasionally need to be aware of our communication styles so as not to frighten off the more timid members of our immediate circles. There are times when we might need to tone down the volume and the wild hand gestures (I know, it’s really hard for some of us. I find actually sitting on my hands helps). I don’t mean change who you are, I just mean take into account who other people are as well.
So some of you had hoped the end of the elections might be the end of the continuous political discussions and debates and I’m so glad you were wrong. I am so glad that the people I engage with are talking about fascinating, amazing, substantial things and not the latest episode of Honey Boo Boo. (Seriously, if you people are watching Honey Boo Boo I may have to reevaluate our friendship). So keep this in mind this week when you are spending time with family and friends who may be driving you absolutely crazy. They argue with you because they love you, really. At least I do! But just to be safe, it might be a good idea to hide the remote!