Quarrel, quibble, argue, bicker - in English we have many words to describe what happens when we disagree.
Why do we do it? To what end do we get red faced and angry, for what benefit do we wave our fists or shout? What do we hope to accomplish in the midst of conflict? And why do we go on and on when there's no clear path to resolution?
I've been thinking about it all day. At its foundation, every argument is a contest, a challenge. Arguments are one way we establish pecking order; they are power struggles. We're social predators, like dogs. We want to know who is alpha in every situation. We have to know, apparently because we fight all the time.
I'm not suggesting that societies with rigid customs about who is the boss of whom are preferable to all the kerfuffles we engage in here in 21st century America. Though - there is a way in which life would be a lot easier if we weren't always jousting for position.
The caste system in India is interesting. You might see a super high class Brahmin begging on the street, or a lower caste person who is rich and lives in some hideous gigantic house. The pecking order in Hinduism is so complicated, even though I've studied, I've read all about it, I can not wrap my mind around it. Indians love to argue. Even the elaborate bartering and bargaining that goes on in the marketplace is an example of the ways in which they establish pecking order. It's complicated.
Ah but that's India. I live in the U.S. of A where allegedly we're all equal. Not true - never was - but we try. We practice being equal as best we can (though of course there's disagreement among us about what equality means). One of the side effects of this evolutionary behavior is a tendency to altercate, sometimes about anything.
We think we are so sophisticated, but I maintain, as always, that most of our behavior is instinctual. It's the stories we attach to our behavior that are sophisticated, not the behavior itself.
I'm thinking about it today because of an exchange on Facebook. One of my friends posted about how sad it is that kids no longer play in the streets (he had been looking at old pics of San Francisco). One of his friends chimed in about how community dies when there is no exchange among neighbors.
I went on a little bit about Capitol Hill.
Me: Come to Capitol Hill. Kids play - not in the streets because they would be run over - but on the sidewalks and in the small front yards. When I moved here I couldn't believe it - neighbors hanging out with cups of coffee or glasses of wine on the front porches, catching up on gossip, kids growing up like brothers and sisters with their neighbors. Honestly I am not exaggerating. Come to Capitol Hill. I'll show you a living, breathing community.
Friend of Friend: Capitol Hill, D.C.? Power Center of the World Imperium? Inventor of the Inside-the-Beltway Syndrome? No, thank you. Kids play in the street and run from back yard to back yard in the corner of Omaha, Nebraska, where I live, as they did in the corner of suburban Denver where my daughter grew up, and the parents’ heads, in both those places, are not addled by grand political madness.
Me: C'mon and visit. You'll be surprised.
FoF: Been there, done that, Reya. And you’ve seen my reaction above. It’s charming enough on the surface, but that’s like the charm of the kept rabbits in *Watership Down*.
At that point I was tempted to continue, if for no other reason than his argument was embarrassingly empty. The kept rabbits in Watership Down? Good lord. But I also wanted to prevail. Of course I did! I'm a normal human being living in a society where I'm allowed to express my opinion.
He insulted me (threw down the gauntlet) by saying he knows more about DC than I do, though he lives in Nebraska. He also insulted my dear friends and neighbors, maintaining that their minds are "addled by grand political madness." Nothing could be further from the truth.
He made clear that his mind was closed to the idea that real community could exist on Capitol Hill. He called me a liar. I wonder if he realized that.
I could have responded with outrage, i.e. Oh, so you know more about DC than I do? I've lived here 14 years! Or I could have been holier than thou, i.e. I'm sad your mind is closed to a wonderful bit of information about DC. Or ...
I could have said a lot of things, but it was time to close the computer and take my shower. The Voice in the Shower, a stalwart ally always, said, Rebuttals are not always necessary.
Wonderful advice and interesting to think about. Who gets the last word in an argument, and what does it mean?
I'm not against disagreements, by the way. As a Jew, I learn from arguing. In fact they say Talmudic teachings must contain a difference of opinion or they can not be considered authentic. I believe it. There are many truths, many realities. I love mixing it up with someone of a different opinion. I love nothing better than engaging with someone, after which I change my mind about something. As long as the quarrel doesn't become personal, I find it enlivening, no matter who has the last word.
But I must choose my battles carefully. Given the above, to continue would have been, at best, a waste of time, yes? He can have the last word. It was clear (after my shower) that unless I wanted to vent my spleen, nothing interesting could come from continuing the exchange. Hence I let it go. It felt really good not to respond.
Interesting to think about!
Shabbat Shalom, y'all.