Negotiating wars of words
by Nancy B. Loughlin
Published by News Press in May, 2014. Posted with permission.
Conflict shows up when it’s invited.
We are living in a culture that celebrates war as a problem-solver. Unfortunately, such tactics result in karmic blowback.
When is it appropriate to argue? By arguing I mean conversing with the intent of proving another person’s viewpoint wrong. According to Deborah Tannen, bestselling author and professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, there are at least two contexts in which verbal swordplay is appropriate. One is where you really care about the topic, and think it is important. Another is a conversation between or among speakers who value enthusiastic argument as sign of intellectual engagement.
But, if it isn’t one of these circumstances (it often isn’t), and if you perceive that someone is picking a fight with you, it might not be worth it. A yogic guiding principal is ahimsa: nonviolence. Words can cause injury.
If this is the case, work on the assumption that you were partially responsible for the kerfuffle. Ask yourself, “What did I do to attract this?”
Check your listening.
Are you seeking information? Or are you collecting ammunition? Are you just waiting for an open window when others speak? Can you count to ten before responding? Are you interrupting or finishing someone’s sentences?
Are you a corrector? People make inaccurate statements. It takes maturity to forgo the editing. Instead of listening for accuracy, listen for intent. Find underlying principles.
When people are sharing, they don’t need advice. Instead of fixing their problems, feel their experiences.
Duality is a myth.
Crossfire aside, it is a mistake to think that there are only two sides to any issue. People cling to political and economic theories because they offer a deceptive simplicity. Life is muddy. All strident theories, once off the page, must adapt or die.
Before you speak, ponder if what you are about to say is really necessary. Skip it if it’s a lie or unkind. Silence is better.
The Buddha understood the value of “Noble Silence.” The Buddha was asked fourteen questions that he thought were unanswerable. He noted that silence was best when talking would have dragged him into dogma.
Freedom rings in “I don’t know.”
Understand that you and your opinion are not the same.
People go to the mattresses when they feel threatened. If someone’s opinion makes you angry, your opinion is too wrapped up with your sense of self.
Instead of defending it, ask the other person, “Why do you think that?” Let that person talk. When he or she is finished, say, “That’s interesting.” Then, walk away and clear your mind. Instead of cultivating political opinions, your time would be better spent getting in touch with your purpose, the essence of who you are.
The more identities you attach to yourself, the more imprisoned you will be. Republican? Liberal? Feminist? These labels are loaded with heavy baggage.
Instead of labels, advocate principles. If you can’t think of any, love will suffice.
Know when to quit.
When it’s loud, it’s over. Volume is a tsunami that will drown rational thought. Say, “We won’t hear each other right now.” Walk away.
Manipulative language burns: “Don’t kid yourself,” or “If you think that, you’re not as smart as I thought.” Say, “We’re not talking about the issue anymore.” Walk away.
As soon as you repeat yourself, the discussion has become circuitous. Say, “I think I’ve been clear.” Walk away.
Just say, “You win.” Walk away.
If someone spits at you, you don’t have to spit back. Walk away.
In the bloodbath that was Braveheart, a minor character was so right. Uncompromising people may be easy to admire, but it’s the ability to compromise that makes one noble.
Check out Deborah Tannen’s great books: “The Argument Culture” and “You Just Don’t Understand.”