Them's Fightin' Words

By Bootdog

Life is a struggle. We all know that, right. And a major part of that struggle is made up of us trying to get other people to do what we want them to do: hold the same opinions as us, go to a specific restaurant for dinner, have sex with us, whatever. Have you ever been involved in or listened to a conversation between two or more people when they weren't engaged in some sort of struggle. If two (or more) people aren't struggling against one another, then they're struggling against a common opponent, or they're regaling one another with stories of past struggles, or they're asleep (and even then they're struggling for control of the covers).

Bring me the heads of the Get-Along Gang

Like I said, life is a struggle and more often than not, we're struggling with our friends and compatriots. This is not a bad thing, necessarily. It's boring when people don't try to get what they want. For example, decisions regarding pizza toppings have generated more strife throughout history than religion and sex combined. One of the strategies when ordering pizza is to get a pizza that has only toppings which appeal to everyone. In other words, cheese pizza. See what avoiding struggle gets you?

The Garfield animated series (Yes, I watch cartoons, you wanna make something of it?) has a set of characters known as The Buddy Bears. The Buddy Bears, by their own admission, always get along. Anyone who does not get along gets a safe dropped on him. Example: "'I don't want chocolate ice cream. I want vanilla ice cream.' THUD!"

I'm a Lover and a Fighter, Bitch!

So we struggle and it is good. Or is it?

I'm sure that everyone here has been involved in a back and forth discussion about some stupid little thing that wound up turning into a shouting match that left everyone breathing heavily and feeling murderous. This is a good struggle?

Well, no. You see, my opinion is that good arguments and such things have two factors that keep them from being destructive. First, struggles must have well-established boundaries. By this, I mean that if Patrick and I get into a heated discussion about what we're having for dinner ("I want macaroni and cheese!" "I want cheese and macaroni!"), once that argument is over ("Oh look, we're out of cheese. How does plain macaroni grab you?") it's over. When we are later choosing what movie we're going to rent, the dinner discussion doesn't enter into it ("Of course you want to see Titanic. What else should I expect from a cheese and macaroni-lover.")

Second, in any struggle, particularly between friends, the stakes of the argument have to be in keeping with the viciousness. Really now, is the waving of hands, shouting, and storming out really justified by the discussion of . . . well, just about anything not involving proper shipment of explosives and/or anthrax? If you don't save your big guns for urgent issues, two things happen. One, no one wants to argue with you, for fear of being thrown out a window. Two, when you are arguing a truly important point ("if we do this, someone may very well get physically injured"), no one will buy it when you break out the big guns once again.

Give Quiche a Chance

I realize that it's nice to win. Winning makes you feel good. Losing sucks. People who can utter the phrase "principled defeat" without a trace of sarcasm have obviously been locked in the attic for most of their lives. That having been said, there's a point where the drive to win becomes more urgent than the drive to do what's best. This is the point where we need to put on the brakes. Take a step back. Is it really all that necessary to get everyone else to agree with what you want / think is right / "know" is true?

Try this. When you find yourself in an argument that's making you angry, anxious and/or loud, when you get to speak, call a time-out. Don't interrupt someone else or accuse them of being the one who's blowing it out of proportion. Simply say in a calm, friendly voice, "Y'know. I think we're getting a little too 'into' this discussion. Let's take a quick break." Excuse yourself to make a phone call or go to the bathroom or sacrifice a bull to the God of War. Then come back and say, still friendly, "What were you saying?" Those who don't respond much more calmly are probably not going to cool off until they get their way or you manage to escape. You might feel differently, but these are people who immediately go on my "Just Avoid" list.

This isn't a cure-all by any means. Sometimes you can't call a time-out. Some people you can't "just avoid". Some situations have to be resolved. Hopefully, these sorts of situations are rare in your life. Everything else is irrlevant in the grand scheme of things. (Must . . . resist . . . "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" . . . reference!) And remember, these are supposed to be your friends.

Now like I was saying: "Cheese and macaroni? Are you out of your freakin' MIND?"


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