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When the Need to Be Right Alienated Me from My Friends…

Source: Vinoth Chandar flickr

Everybody likes to argue. People that don’t like to argue are either dead or in comma. The only question is what kind of fights do you like?

There are people who like to fight and are willing to employ their entire God given arsenal of wits in order to arrive at their own version of the truth. Then there are the types who hate fighting but have a huge need to be right; they will defend their opinion even if it makes them sick as dogs. And finally, there are people who like to argue for the sake of arguing; it’s their form of high.

Regardless of which type of a fighter you are, very few of us enjoy the trail of destruction that this hobby leaves behind.

To be frank, I’ve been guilty of all three, countless times. I’ve gone through all three stages listed above. I loved to argue and would undertake an immense effort to come out on top. No matter whether it took manipulation, twisting of facts, swearwords, sarcasm and venomous attacks, I had to have it my way.

My sense of pride was deeply entrenched with my capacity of perceiving the “obvious” better than my friends. I loved the rush that a heated argument would produce and was willing to breach all boundaries in order to get it.

If you’re going to say what you want to say, you’re going to hear what you don’t want to hear.  Roberto Bolaño.

Many times I would win the arguments but at the same time some cosmic laws were starting to play out. I was starting to feel more and more alienated. My few best friends were still with me but I was not fitting in with other groups. It was slowly dawning on me – I had become too abrasive and arrogant for a simple conversation with a stranger.

Being a very social creature in early adulthood I didn’t like my new reality. I spent many days smoking cigarettes by the river and pondering, “Why is it so important for me to win arguments?”, “Why do I have such a deep seeded fervor for being right at all times?,” “Why am I so lonely and feel like being surrounded by “idiots”?“ “Could it be that some natural laws are trying to tell me something?”

I didn’t get all my answers that summer; I was too young and lacked life experience. But I did make a promise to myself to do one thing – I was going to allow other people to express their opinion and see whether I can simply respect their world view, especially when it contradicted my own. I also resolved to make an effort to concede for the sake of conceding and to see what happens. In my mind, a bright future was ahead of me.

Needless to say, it would have been a miracle if I changed that quickly. As Ashleigh Brilliant says, “My opinions may have changed, but not the fact that I’m right.” As we all know – old habits are a real bitch.  My overall inclination to get into verbal fights didn’t subside but I did inject some of my “new” philosophy into situations at hand and watched something short of miraculous happen. When I conceded an argument or clearly accepted defeat, my friends felt good, I felt good, it produced stronger bonds, and infused friendships with a whole different level of respect.

As years went by, I found a spiritual path that I could relate to and grow in. I started meditating which gave me more mental space and reduced my knee jerk reactions to getting involved in trivial fights.

Now, if I feel I’m being pulled in an argument I normally ask myself: “Is this simply about a power trip for the two of us involved or is there something meaningful here long term?”  If I feel it can be a light-hearted, humorous argument that can enhance the relationship I go for it. Most of the times, it doesn’t even matter what the truth is, the deciding factor is weather the arguments strengthens or weakens my friendships.

These days, the world is so complicated that hardly anyone knows the real truth any more. There could be five news anchors on CNN arguing about developments in Middle East, all having their own “facts”, their own stories, their own versions and they may all sound right. If you noticed, news agencies don’t even bother presenting the facts on complicated issues anymore, they only offer opinions from “experts”.

Before you mention this in the comments, I’d like to draw one distinction: We should respect other beliefs, and agree to disagree, as long as it doesn’t impact our basic freedoms. Those views that allow abuse of women in the name of religion, fight violent wars and threaten our freedoms deserve to be challenged most vigorously.

However, if our arguments are spawned by every day interactions with family, friends and co-workers it makes most sense to accept that we all have our own version of the truth. Everyone wants to be right and by forcefully imposing our own version of truth we usually screw up more relationships than we care to admit.

Finally, why not accept that there can be many versions of truth? If some scientists can claim that there are parallel universes to ours then why can’t we accept that all of us perceive life in our own unique ways, through own culture, creed and taste-bud receptors?

“Confrontation should always leave a person’s dignity in tact.” – Dr. A. J. Anglin.

In summary: Arguing for the sake of arguing and having an irrepressible need to be right at all times is nothing but an ego trip to places we don’t want to be. However, always conceding in order to pacify the situation or being afraid to express your view when it really matters is just another side of the same coin.

What works well is finding a fine balance between expressing your own voice without being austere or fanatical about it, and being able to hear others without prejudice.   When respect is shown to others, respect is returned, and friendships are enhanced, it’s a simple fact. As life experience dictates, the truth usually resides somewhere in the middle anyways.

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