In arguments one side is correct, but not right
– Ajahn Chah
You can be right or you can be happy
– Dr. Phil
I enjoyed this talk by Ajahn Brahm, a former British scientist with a salty sense of humor and now a Buddhist monk in Australia. He had a number of interesting things to say about about heated arguments, which can be applied to discussions off and on the internet.
He went into some interesting diversions during the video. The first was a piece of graffiti he found in a bathroom at a British university:
The eminence of scientist is measured by how long he can forestall progress in his field.
Love it! I think anyone who has been to graduate school for any length of time can appreciate that quote.
The other diversion he mentioned was a comment about how he noticed people react to death in Thailand. A country with a strong Buddhist culture, far less influenced by the West than other countries. Ajahn Brahm stated that when people die in Thailand they tend to feel loss, but not grieve as much as people in other countries do. I’ve always noticed religious people grieving after the death of someone they value, which is logically inconsistent with a conviction ( a belief you actually believe instead of wanting to believe ) that their loved ones are going to a better place. The situation would not be unlike in another century when someone moved to a distant country and would not be able to communicate anymore.
Back to arguing.
Ajahn Brahm had a lot to say about what psychologists call comfirmation bias or what ordinary people call “filters”, but in plain language, in a way that really hits home. He advised people to be on their guard for wrapping themselves up in a cocoon with friends who only think like they do. It is so easy to do that these days with very biased news outlets, web sites that will reinforce any viewpoint and the paucity of free time in an adult life.
He also mentioned how many arguments are not really arguments, but ego contests where only one person can be right and the other person has to self declare themselves as being a “loser” ( worthless ). According to Ajahn Brahm this kind of thing turns arguments from potentially enriching experiences into time wasting, relationship damaging pissing contests.
Ajahn Brahm reminisced about the time he spent in pubs during his college days arguing passionately with his friends, with the understanding that the person who won the argument bought the next round of drinks. That is one of the things I miss about my days as a philosophy student as well. An argument was a true argument. A chance for discovering new things, where the discussion was about the subject, never about the people and never about their personal worth ( unless it was in graduate school when professors were involved 🙂 ).
I had a friend at a job who had the extreme opposite of all of my political and social views. However, he was a gentleman to the core and I had one of those kinds of friendships with him. We could passionately argue, be friends before the argument, be friends during the argument and be friends after the argument. I learned how people very different my ilk saw the world, which I found fascinating. I miss this coworker more than I miss some friends who I have fallen out of touch with who share all of my values.