AIRING DISAGREEMENTS: The way we argue reveals the extent to which we respect each other
ALL of us as human beings argue. We have disagreements. Sometimes our disagreements are over substantive issues; sometimes they are over trivial ones.
Sometimes when we argue, our words are misunderstood. Perhaps we did not speak with enough clarity.
Perhaps the person with whom we are debating interprets us through their views and notions in such a way that our words become distorted.
No matter what the topic, an argument is always between people. It can happen between friends, it can happen in families and it can happen in nation states.
Democracy, for example, is often considered a system through which we civilise and manage our arguments on the national scale.
One thing I have noticed in arguments is a difference between those who have quarrels but who still respect and consider the interests and points of view of the people they are arguing with and those who have arguments that can simply be characterised by a win-at-all-costs temperament.
Imagine you are in a family and you are having a rather heated debate with your parents.
We all dislike thinking of such things but let's think of this as an example. I respect my parents and know that despite the hottest of disagreements that our family is still sacrosanct and that its continuance is of primary importance. I argue in a way that still has a strong sense of respect and regard for my family.
I recognise that despite whatever our disagreements, the family is important and that our disputes must always be couched in a way that shows and demonstrates care, respect and a sense of belonging.
Consider another example: a good group of friends. We have an argument among ourselves; perhaps we are even competing for something.
Despite our contention, I respect my friends and I value our friendship. I value our friendship as something more significant than winning on this or that point.
In other words, just like the family, I place value on the continuance of an institution -- be it family or friendship -- that is more important than any particular quarrel within it.
Let's move on to another example: the national community. When I have a disagreement over this or that policy issue or political platform as a citizen of my country, I do so from a point of view that still recognises and values the importance of my country.
The argument I have with this or that politician is based on a desire to improve our nation; however, this desire for improvement relies on an appreciation that the interest of our national community transcends my particular personal interest or even the interest of the group to which I belong.
My sense of belonging and my recognition that I belong to something that is valuable beyond my personal ego or interest tempers my individualism or arrogance in argument.
Having a sense of belonging also entails respecting those with whom I disagree because ultimately I know that they too are motivated by their loyalty to the national community and that despite our differences we still need to ensure that the basic institution of our nation is sustained and not destroyed.
We have transcendent loyalties which also involve us in respecting and recognising those with whom we argue as members of that same transcendent community.
Now imagine an opposite scenario. Imagine in my family that I did not care about it. Imagine that all I wanted to do was to win, no matter what the cost. I would argue and fight and accuse till I got my way. The family during this process would be destroyed, but who cares, winning is all.
Again imagine among my friends. We have been friends through thick and thin. Imagine that this was of no consequence to me. I want what I want and I will do anything to get it. My friendships have been destroyed but who cares? I won; I prevailed in our argument and that is all that matters. The friendships of 20 or 30 years are destroyed but I win.
When I provide these examples, most of my readers will recoil in horror. You will say to yourselves, this is not the way. It's not all about me. It's not all about winning at any cost.
Friendships for 30 years are important and must be protected. Families which extend even longer are also valuable and deserving of protection and respect.
Now imagine that our arguments in a national community were also characterised by this win at any cost idea. It's all about me. Smash everything to win.
Who cares about the national community anyway, winning is all!
I will make up every accusation, I will sully every institution, I will insinuate every manner of corruption and every time those who disagree with me seek to temper my hand or suggest that perhaps we should be mindful of stability and cohesion to ensure that our transcendent loyalty is not frayed, I will suggest that they too are corrupt.
Why would I argue in such a way? Why act in such away? Well, one answer is that if it's all about me then nothing else matters. Friendship, family and nation can be sacrificed on the altar of personal ego.
All arguments among friends, or families or national communities entail that they balance our egos and desires with a sense of mutual respect and temperance. Such respect comes about because despite our differences we still have a sense of loyalty to something that transcends our egos, something that is beyond me.
In saying all of the above, I am not saying that arguments should not occur between friends, within families and within a national community.
They do and it is a healthy sign that disagreement can be aired and debated.
However, the way we argue also reveals the extent to which we respect each other and the extent to which we are seeking to improve the aims of our friendships, solve the problems of our families and resolve the issues of a national community.
However, if we do not care about our friends, if we could not care less about our family, and if we have no notion of transcendent loyalty to our national community then any tactic can be used and winning is all.
Such an approach to argument destroys in its quest to win and prevail. Friendships cannot survive long if we act in this way. Families too will be torn asunder. National communities likewise cannot be sustained.