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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For the Love of God and Music

We go to church. A lot. I say that not to be pompous or self-righteous. I say it not to make you or the religious right assume I am one of them. I say it because it’s true and sets the stage for this post.

We even go to church for Maundy Thursday. This service, for some denominations, is when Christians remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s washing of his disciples feet. I’ve had some powerful experiences at Maundy Thursday services in the past.

Back when we were going to dance lessons at a nearby club on Thursday nights, we would joke come Holy Week that we couldn’t go dancing at the bar with our Baptist friends because we were going to church. That always made us laugh.

So, anyway. Hal got excited when I picked him up from school and said we were going to church. I clarified that we were going to a worship service, that he wouldn’t be watching movies and hanging out with Ms. Rita like he does on Wednesdays.

He dutifully sat with his worship notebook and drew contentedly for a few minutes, then began to fidget and try to sit on the floor. I told him to sit up. He asked for some gum. I said I didn’t have any. He fidgeted and sat on the floor. I told him to sit on the pew. Eventually he stage whispered, “Can I play a game on your phone?” I said no. His hands went to his eyes, head to the pew (still sitting on the floor), and his quiet sobs could be heard by anyone nearby.

He looked up at me and said plaintively, “But I want to do something fun!”

“We aren’t here to have fun,” I said, already starting to feel there was something wrong in my words. “We are here to… to worship God and take Communion and… and… be quiet.”

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

There were 31 people from two congregations there. And that included the choir and the two pastors. Maundy Thursday is not attended by many. In fact, with the exception of the almost-13 year old friend of Jane’s present, my boys were the only people under 35 present. Even Jane had gone to watch a college volleyball game with her team.

What are we doing? I asked myself as I watched my young son cry because he was at church. What kind of damage are we inflicting?

These thoughts persisted after we left the church – the service was a very brief 30 minutes. From there, we headed to a professional symphony orchestra performance. One that started about 30 minutes before the boys’ bed time. But enriching your children’s lives is important. Infecting them with a love of music and all that, right?

Hal squirmed the entire time. Daryl complained that he was tired and did not want to be there.

What are we doing? I thought to myself.

Taking your kids to church is the right thing to do, right? Taking them to cultural events like high-quality symphony performances is the right thing to do, right?

So why aren’t they reveling in the awesome job we are doing at child rearing? Why aren’t they jumping up and down with excitement? Why aren’t they thanking us and begging for more?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that some experiences are valuable even if they aren’t fun. That children might learn to appreciate experiences later. That we have to set the stage for patience and respect and proper behavior. That we have to widen their horizons beyond video games and tee ball.

I’m just wondering at what age some of these experiences should begin. And whether our kids are typical or not. We are a music family. We are a church family. But are we driving the love for either or both out of our children?

I’m honestly not sure.