A boy once asked his father, "Dad, how do wars begin?"
"Well, take the First World War," said his father. "That got started when Germany invaded Belgium."
Immediately his wife interrupted him, "Tell the boy the truth! It began because somebody was assassinated!"
The husband drew himself up with an air of superiority and snapped back, "Are you answering the question or am I?"
Turning her back upon him in a huff, the wife stormed out the room and slammed the door as hard as she could! When the dishes stopped rattling in the cupboard an uneasy silence followed, broken at length by the boy: "Daddy, you don't have to tell me how wars begin; I know now!"
Arguing! We all do it sometimes! We all know what it is to walk away from an argument with the mouth dry, tummy in a knot, head hot and spinning, and heart sick--wishing that it had never happened, deeply regretting the unkind words that were said! Believe it or not, more homes are destroyed by arguments than by fires or funerals!
We all know that arguing for the sake of arguing is a pointless waste of time! We have absolutely nothing to gain, and our time, energy and someone's friendship to lose! It's said that the only people who really listen to an argument are the neighbors! What do you get out of an argument? Exactly what you put into it--a lot of hot air! So what can we do to avoid them? Or, once an argument has started, what can we do to stop it? Or if already over, what can we do to make amends? We're going to explore these questions!
Some people love to argue, and will do anything to prove a point! They'd rather lose a friend than an argument! For others, arguing has become a habit, an automatic reaction of saying something contradictory to whatever is being said!
One compulsive arguer was the early American statesman, philosopher and author, Benjamin Franklin. As a youth he loved nothing more than a good argument until a close friend took him aside and said, "Ben, you are impossible! Your opinions have a slap in them for everyone who differs with you! Your friends enjoy themselves better when you are not around! You think you know so much that no one can tell you anything. Indeed, no one is going to try, for the effort would only lead to discomfort and hard work! So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now--which is actually very little!"
Ben Franklin was big enough and wise enough to accept these stinging truths, and to realize that he was headed for failure and social disaster! So he immediately began to change his bigoted, argumentative ways! He became one of the best loved, wisest and most diplomatic men in American history, and was actually remembered for saying:
"If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes. But it will be an empty victory, because you will never get your opponent's good will!"
No one ever really wins an argument! You can shout and scream and argue until you're blue in the face, but people are not going to believe that you are right unless they want to believe it! And even if they would like to agree with you, your tone may have put them so much on the defensive that it would be like an utter humiliation, defeat on the battlefield, for them to confess you're right or even partly right! And remember, no amount of logic or argument will make anyone change his mind if he doesn't want to! Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each side more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right!
You can't win an argument, because if you lose it, you lose it!--And if you win it, you lose it! Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other person and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he's an absolute idiot. Then what? You'll feel fine, smug and satisfied. But what about him? You'll have made him feel inferior. You've hurt his pride. He may resent your triumph, and--"A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still!"
The "Boston Transcript" once printed this little poem:
"Here lies the body of William Jay,
Who died maintaining his right of way!
He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
But he's just as dead as if he were wrong!"
You may be right, dead right, as you speed along in your argument, but as far as changing someone else's mind, it will probably be just as futile as if you were wrong! So which would you rather have?--An academic, theoretical victory or a person's good will? You can seldom have both!
In Aesop's fables there's a story about the sun and the wind. In the story the argumentative wind boasted to the sun that he was the stronger. The sun maintained that he was. So the wind said, "I'll prove I am! See the old man down there with the coat? I'll bet I can get his coat off of him quicker than you can!"
So the sun went behind a cloud, and the wind blew and blew until it was almost a tornado! But the harder it blew, the tighter the old man clutched his coat to him! Finally the wind calmed down and gave up!
Then the sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man! And after awhile he mopped his brow and pulled off his coat! The sun had shown the wind that gentleness and friendliness are stronger than fury and force!
So, scolding parents, domineering bosses, husbands and nagging wives ought to realize that people usually don't want to change their minds! They can't be forced or driven to agree! But they may possibly be led to, if we are gentle and friendly! Showing love and consideration can make people change their minds far more easily than all the bluster and storming in the World! The best way to get somebody to do something is by making them WANT to do it!
In his famous book "How to Win Friends and Influence People", Dale Carnegie tells this story: "Years ago Patrick J. O'Haire joined one of my classes. He had little education, and how he loved a scrap! He came to me because he had been trying, without much success, to sell trucks. A little questioning brought out the fact that he was continually scrapping with and antagonizing the very people he was trying to do business with. If a person said anything derogatory about the trucks he was selling, Pat saw red and was right at the customer's throat. Pat "won" a lot of arguments in those days. As he said to me afterward, `I often walked out of an office saying, I told that bird something. Sure, I had told him something, but I hadn't sold him anything.'
"My first problem was not to teach Patrick J. O'Haire to talk. My immediate task was to train him to refrain from talking and to avoid verbal fights.
"Mr. O'Haire eventually became a star salesmen for the White Motor Company in New York. How did he do it?--Here is his story: `If I walk into a buyer's office now & he says, `What? A White truck? They're no good! I wouldn't take one of those if you gave it to me. I'm going to buy the Whose-It truck.' I say, `The Whose-It is a good truck. If you buy the Whose-It, you'll never make a mistake. The Whose-Its are made by a fine company and sold by good people.'
"`He is speechless then. There is no room for argument. If he says the Whose-It is best and I say sure it is, he has to stop. He can't keep on saying, `It's the best', when I'm agreeing with him. We then get off the subject of Whose-It and I begin to talk about the good points of the White truck.
"`Before, a remark like his first one would have made me see scarlet and red and orange. I would start arguing against the Whose-It; and the more I argued against it, the more my customer argued in favor of it; and the more he argued, the more he sold himself on my competitor's product.
"`As I look back now, I wonder how I was ever able to sell anything. I lost years of my life in scrapping and arguing. I keep my mouth shut now. It pays.'" So remember that if you want to convert someone to your way of thinking: Obnoxious arguing will often make the other person cling more firmly to his old position. You must first be willing to listen to him and try to understand his point of view, before he will consider listening to yours! Then you must indirectly guide him towards discovering your point of view, rather than taking a bossy "That's the way it is, take it or leave it" approach! As the great French mathematician, writer and Christian, Blaise Pascal, pointed out, "People are usually more convinced by reasons they discover themselves, than by those found by others!"
"Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out."--Proverbs 17:14.
It's been said that there's only one way to get the best of an argument--to avoid it! But how? How can we ensure that we ourselves are not the instigators of any unnecessary disputes?
(1) Realize that you may not always be right. It's possible you might be wrong! Remember, there are three sides to every story!--Your side, my side, and the whole truth!--Which neither you nor I may fully see! As the Apostle Paul said, "We know that we all have knowledge. But knowledge (merely) puffs up, while love edifies. And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know."--1Corinthians 8:1-2.
(2) Admit verbally at the start that you don't know everything and may be wrong! That's one sure way to avoid an argument and inspire the other fellow to be just as fair and open and broad-minded as you are! It will make him want to admit that he, too, may be wrong! Jesus said, "Agree with thine adversary quickly."--Matthew 5:25. In other words, don't argue needlessly! Use a little love and consideration and diplomacy!
So if someone makes a statement that you think is wrong--even that you know is wrong--isn't it better to begin by saying, "Well, now, look! I thought otherwise, but I am often wrong.--And if I'm wrong, I want to be put right. Let's examine the facts." No one in the whole wide World will ever object to your saying a magic phrase like, "I may be wrong. Let's examine the facts!"
(3) Never tell a person straight out you don't agree with him. Instead say, "Do you think it might be better done this way?" "Do you feel this would save you more time?" This way you're telling a person in a courteous way what you think, and at the same time asking him to respond with his opinion or idea! Try it! It gets much better results than saying, "Do it this way, period!"
(4) Show respect for the other person's opinions. Try to see his point of view and understand his reasons for the views he holds! Never just bluntly, flat-out tell a man, "You're wrong!"--And you can tell people that they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as emphatically as you can in words. And if you tell them that they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? No! For you have struck a direct blow at their judgment, their pride and their self-respect! That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds! As Lord Chesterfield said to his son, "Be wiser than other people, if you can. But do not tell them that you are!"
(5) Never begin a discussion by announcing, "I'm going to prove so-and-so to you." That's the same as saying, "I'm smarter than you are! I'm going to tell you a thing or two and make you change your mind!" That is a challenge. That arouses opposition and makes the listener want to battle with you before you even start! You can avoid arguments by not embarrassing people or belittling people, and always letting them have the benefit of the doubt!
(6) Avoid argument-starting words! Stop using phrases such as: "Is that so?"-"That's ridiculous!"--"You and who else?"-"That's a lot of baloney!"--"Where did you get that crazy idea?"
Any such expressions beg for an argument! Cut them from your vocabulary, and you'll cut down the time you spend arguing if you do! "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."-Proverbs 15:1.
(7) Avoid sweeping generalizations such as: "You're never on time!"--"You always say things like that!"--"All women are emotional!"--"All men are like that!"--"Everyone thinks you are that way, and so do I!"
(8) Don't exaggerate or insinuate! "Speak the truth in love."--Ephesians 4:15. It pays to pray before you say! If you don't say it, you won't have to unsay it!
(9) Avoid frivolous talk about sensitive subjects. If you voice unnecessary opinions to others who don't have similar views, it's a sure way to start an argument!
(10) Never tell someone, "You should not feel that way!" Everyone has feelings that are uniquely their own, and they do feel that way, or they wouldn't have said it! Instead, ask them to tell you why they feel the way they do, or simply say, "I understand." This will avoid argument and keep the conversation rolling.
(11) A good motto to avoid starting an argument: "If I am wrong I will say so. I if I am right I will shut up!" There are, of course, matters that are important to set straight, but if you must point out someone's error, make sure you do it in a humble, courteous spirit.
Also, right at that moment may not be the very best time to tell them. Wait until they are in a receptive frame of mind. "A fool utters all his mind (immediately), but a wise man keeps it in till afterwards."--Proverbs 29:11. So be discerning and sensitive to others' feelings! "A wise man's heart discerns both time and judgment."--Ecclesiastes 8:5. (Continue to part 2)