Thursday, April 26, 2012

Arguments Among Friends

 "The truth springs from arguments among friends."
~ David Hume, Scottish philosopher

I love arguing, especially with my friends. I get a little thrill, a ping beneath the skin, when an argument turns passionate and voices rise. And when the argument rides that wicked edge between debate and fight, I often feel myself coming alive in the blood.

This can be a problem.

Especially when you're arguing with someone who doesn't particularly like the practice. Especially when you're arguing with someone who considers all arguing to be distressing, distateful, or simply fighting. And, I admit, when an argument does cross that line from debate to full-on fight, I've got a fuse that can be extinguished so quickly it leaves my loved ones breathless. I can be ready to move on, and they're still mad.

Like I said, a problem.

But I don't think Hume meant "fights" when he wrote "arguments." I think he meant debate--good, old fashioned, disagreeing debate. We all remember those, right? The kinds of conversations where the speakers kept their minds open, and those minds could be changed?

The American conscious (and conscience) sprouted, grew and flourished because of debate: because smart people argued with each other--smart people who respected each other, even when they disagreed. Smart people who found the debate a useful, changing, and illuminating tool. Who were willing to see past the parameters of their own backgrounds and beliefs. And, like Hume said, the truth sprung. (Can I get an "amen"?)

Today, debate sometimes seems useless. Listeners often seem unwilling to crack the windows of their deeply-held beliefs, even to allow in the fresh air. And instead, in all situations and on all sides, the air grows stagnant, and eventually will stink.

I love my friends. I've got friends with whom I agree on just about everything: politics, literature, religion, football. I've also got friends with whom I disagree, on all the above. Most of my friends are willing to enter the argument: to talk, exchange ideas, to laugh with and at each other when it all grows ridiculous. I'm lucky for this. And I have friends with whom I've learned simply not to broach certain topics for the sake of the friendship. And this, too, is okay--though I long to enter the argument, I want to do so if only I could be assured its outcome would be that our friendship be unaltered.

DKG and me, after she signed my ripped event ticket because I'd loaned out her book
In the Fall, I was lucky enough to sit very close to a stage where Doris Kearns Goodwin, reknowned American historian and bestselling author of Team of Rivals, et. al.--also one of my very favorite writers--regaled a large audience with tales of ex-presidents, baseball, and history. In that audience sat folks of all ilk and belief, and Goodwin was a rock star. And I'm quite certain that everyone in the audience, be they Democrat or Republican, Manhattanite or mountain-dweller, Christian or Hindi, had a marvelous time. That they (we) all learned something. That we walked away from the presentation of an historical debate the better for having engaged in it.

I'm still working on my problem of enjoying the argument a bit too much. But the truth is, it's in my blood. And I hope beyond hope, that when it comes to most debates, my mind is open. That it may be changed. And that if it's not, that out of the argument the truth will spring in all its glory, and I'll catch a bit of it in my hands.

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