How to Win the Argument Every. Single. Time.

I have conversations with people in my head all the time. It might be more accurate to call most of these conversations “confrontations.” And to anyone who knows me, that goes a long way to explaining why they take place only in my head. As someone who prefers a peaceful and friendly co-existence with people, I shy away from confrontation.

But people do upset me. And when they do, I tell them all about it. In my head. It’s the safest place to have these discussions because… I. Always. Win. I make my case brilliantly and flawlessly. My opponent either makes a weak attempt at retort or is struck dumb by my logical brilliance. They have no chance against my mighty mind.

Many things can create these worthy one-sided debates. It could be an argument online that I chose not to engage in despite having strong feelings on the subject. It could be in response to a friend’s remark that caused me to bite my tongue in silence. It could be imagining an upcoming discussion among the church elders in which I know I hold the minority position. It could be an encounter with the people at work who just went behind the scenes and stole my funding without including me in the decision making. The interesting effect of having these conversations with only me is that it reenforces the notion in my head that I’m right. It solidifies my argument. It makes me feel more confident… without risk.

This was on my mind today as I pondered a link I saw a friend share on Facebook. It said “10 Things to Ask Liberals.” I didn’t bother following the link, having seen many things like it before. 10 Ways to Prove Atheists Wrong. 10 Things to Ask Conservatives. 10 Things to Throw at Evangelicals. The list goes on. Every camp has their pat arguments that they think settle the issue.

One problem I have with these lists is the labeling. “Liberals” was not used as a usefully descriptive term for a person’s political position. It was used to denigrate and insult. Whether list makers and their readers want to admit it or not, the fact is that we have all lived our lives under different circumstances and with different experiences. We all have different personalities and interests. Different priorities. Different beliefs. Just because someone else has come to different conclusions than you doesn’t make them less than you. And it doesn’t make them wrong. They could be wrong but not have the experience to understand why. Or you could be the one that’s wrong. Or neither of you. Or both.

Most of us are ok with the notion that some people just don’t like dogs and other people feel likewise about cats. We are ok with different styles of dress, different reading interests, even – to a limited extent – different parenting styles. But as soon as those differences roll into religious belief or what we think our priorities should be as a society, the differences are no longer respected. The word “idiot” is thrown about all over the internet to describe the other side. No one is actually listening. Everyone is just shouting.

Which brings me to the other problem I have with these lists. People actually think they settle the issue. People think using them wins the argument. It’s just like the arguments in my head. They’ve started from their own point of view, built their argument using their own assumptions and values, maybe even shown it to a like-minded friend, and declared it the perfect assault on the wayward, misguided, idiotic other.

It’s like all the times I’ve heard Christians justify their position to an atheist (or any other non-Christian) with “The Bible says…”. Guess what? They actually don’t care what the Bible says. It holds no weight for them. You are going to have to make your case differently if you want to win them over.

But sometimes I wonder if these lists are really about winning people over. I don’t think they are actually about changing anyone’s mind at all. That would take time, patience, understanding, give-and-take, a willingness to listen, compassion, and the ability to consider the possibility that oneself is the one actually wrong. How many people are up for that?

No, these lists are about making other like-minded people feel good about themselves. To solidify their notion that they are right and the others are fools for not seeing it. To rally the troops. To win – if only in their heads. And I should know. I’m an expert at winning there.

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Midnight Antics

There are a couple of things that are guaranteed if you need to get up earlier than usual. The first is that something will keep you from getting to bed as early as you planned. That happened to me last night.

The second is that something will wake you up in the middle of the night. That happened last night too. If you are lucky, it’s just the dog barking or a wrong number phone call and you are able to quickly return to sleep. Slightly less lucky and you’ll be comforting a crying child. Really unlucky and you’ll be comforting that child while they throw up at the toilet or stripping sheets off a bed that he or she peed in.

The truly cursed will have a night like mine. Sometime shortly after 1:00 in the morning, I was awakened by my husband asking me if I remembered the concoction we had used the last time Rose, our dog, had been sprayed by a skunk. My sleep-addled mind initially thought that’s all he wanted – my recollection. It wasn’t forthcoming. The smell soon traveled from ground zero through the entire house to accost my nostrils in our bedroom.

I soon woke up enough to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to give him the magic ingredients and then roll over to return to sleep while he dealt with the dog. As we gathered the hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn dish soap and looked – unsuccessfully – for some rubber or latex gloves, I suggested that we could surely more easily find a bullet and take care of the problem for good. I wasn’t talking about the skunk.

Before long, I had put some Crocs on over my warm footed pajamas and added a jacket. My husband had donned a gallon sized ziploc bag on one hand, held in place by a hair rubber band. We went outside and the dog ran to us. He sternly ordered her to sit before she could jump on either of us and slipped a leash around her neck. I shined a flashlight on her face so we could attempt to determine where she had been hit.

Can I just make an aside here? If you are writing a how-to on deskunking a dog, don’t bother saying something like If your dog got sprayed in the face…. Of course she got sprayed in the face! She got sprayed because she’s curious and was cornering the thing. Probably hoping to kill it like she did the last one. Are there any dogs that get sprayed anywhere other than the face?

Anyway, back to my tale. This scenario is not conducive to positive marital interaction. Even if you’ve been married for as long as we have. My husband wasn’t sure about putting the concoction on her face so suggested we spray her down with the hose first. It’s winter. In Texas, yes, but it’s still winter. It’s cold out there!

But, ok. I got out the hose and squeezed the trigger at the end. The nozzle, which I couldn’t see, was set to jet spray. He snapped that that wouldn’t work. I snapped that I realized that. He paused, then said he was sorry. A couple of rotations of the nozzle and some more sharply worded remarks later, I was spraying the dog. And him. Because it’s not possible to spray a squirming dog without hitting at least the arms and legs of the person keeping short rein on the leash. Especially when it’s dark and you are trying to do it while holding a flashlight in your other hand. And your spraying hand has gone numb because it’s wet too.

We then got into a discussion of whether to use the concoction. I insisted that the web sources had said to use a washcloth and just be careful around the eyes. He held the shivering dog while I returned to the house for a washcloth. As I stepped back outside, he asked if we should wake up Jane for a third pair of hands.

“I think that would be a disaster,” I said. “You aren’t being very civil.” I had attempted to choose my words carefully so as not to escalate the tension but my clipped manner of speaking gave me away.

“It’s hard to be civil when you are drenched and cold,” he returned in similar tone.

I held the leash while he lathered the dog and then I returned to the house for my cell phone so we could gauge how much time was passing.

“The online resources said 15 to 45 minutes,” I said. “Do you want to tie her out here so we can go back inside or do you want to stay out here with her?”

“I don’t think we are going to be able to wait 45 minutes,” he said as I began to untie the rope for the tire swing that he had pointed out to me.

“It’s the most effective the longer you leave it on,” I replied.

“I think it’s too cold to leave her out here wet that long.”

“Are you really that concerned about the comfort of the dog right now?”

“It’s not her comfort I’m thinking of. She has less body mass than I do and I’m frozen. We might return to an icicle on a leash.”

“And would that be such a terrible thing?” I asked. I’m not particularly charitable in the middle of the night.

After maybe 10 or 15 minutes, he decided he couldn’t smell anything on her anymore so we rinsed her off and then washed her again with dog shampoo. I dried her off and kept her still while he replaced the blanket in her crate with a towel – just in case she still had any oil on her.

As I felt her shiver and spoke soothing words to her, I began to feel some sympathy for her. Not a lot, but a little.

After she was secure in her crate, my husband tried to hand me the leash to take back outside with the towel. As I reached for the part he was holding, he pulled it higher. We played this keep-away game several times before I reached for the dangling loop as he kindly – not the least bit snappishly – explained that he was trying to hand me the part that hadn’t touched the dog.

We had found our manners. We began to joke with each other and plan for storing supplies for next time. Because let’s face it, there will be a next time. There was no hint of the animosity on display earlier in the night.

He had his bedside light on when I crawled into bed beside him. I looked up and noticed a large chunk of greenery on the ceiling fan. It looked like someone had tied a shrub to the fan. There wasn’t a lot of light and I couldn’t see very well, but it’s Christmas and he had helped cut up a fallen tree earlier in the day.

“Why is there mistletoe hanging on our ceiling fan?”

He beamed a huge smile and announced that he had put it there.

The fan is over the foot of the bed, not the head. I said, “Huh. Good thing I’m not under it.” And then rolled away from him, pulling the covers securely to my neck.

“What?!” he asked in feigned indignation.

I rolled back over and smiled as I rested my arm on his chest. “Perhaps you shouldn’t wake me up in the middle of the night to help with something you clearly should have been able to handle by yourself.”

“Oh, ok. What about when you wake me to kill the mouse that got caught by the trap but didn’t die?”

“You didn’t get up to help me that night. You made me stay up listening to the thing die a slow agonizing death. This wasn’t life and death yet I still got up and helped. You didn’t. Who’s the better spouse?”

We smiled. We kissed beneath the mistletoe. Well, just slightly west of the mistletoe. I reset my alarm for later in the morning. And then I lay awake for at least an hour and a half, waiting for sleep to reclaim me.