You cannot be serious!

There’s nothing quite like a good argument. And no time like Christmas to have one; for when else will you be in close proximity to such familiar faces? Faces which, no matter how much you love them, will doubtless provoke great disagreements and upset and – what’s more – you know exactly how to press their buttons and they, in turn, know how to press yours.

 

I love a good argument. Or perhaps I really mean a debate, because actual personal disagreements can be painful and difficult. But the sort of jocular rows had in my family over Christmas are a joy, complete with mock outbursts of temper, theatrical yelling and never once an agreement being reached. You have to know one another to achieve this level of performance; it’s a rare day when you can encounter a stranger in a pub and reach this level of high farce.

 

It always surprises me that people don’t know how to argue. As Monty Python said back in the seventies, mere contradiction does not an argument make. Nor does the repeated assertion of a point without addressing a counterpoint – or, indeed, allowing a counterpoint to be made. That’s simply bullying and is frequently employed (for comic purposes, I’m sure) by Jeremy Clarkson. The worst culprits of all are politicians, who really should know better. They’ve got so good at evasion and misdirection that you’re often left wondering what the bloody point of it all was in the first place.

 

A good argument is essentially a logical construction and is best carried out in a pub, or at least with some form of intoxicating beverage on hand. I’m not a fan of debating societies or the like: too formal, too annoying, not giving you the room to interrupt with a timely ‘bollocks’. Yes, there is room for comedy abuse in a good argument, but one should always allow the opponent(s) to finish their point if it’s something they feel strongly about. Indeed, a good argument essentially follows the rules of good conversation: plenty of interruptions, the odd bit of talking over one another, but with everybody given a chance to speak. Actually, one of the most useful tricks in the art of arguing is to pause and restate the opponent’s point of view. ‘So what you’re really saying is…’ before demolishing them in a relentless cloud of logic.

 

I suppose that the real achievement of an argument is not so much to persuade someone, but to make them understand your point of view. It’s remarkable how we can all go through life assured that we’re understanding, intelligent and considerate of others, without really knowing why people hold differing opinions. A good argument can make you see things from other people’s point of view, and it’s remarkable how, on many occasions, both parties will come away thinking ‘I’d never considered it like that’, and though you may never come entirely to terms, you’ll have a little more understanding and, on some peripheral point at least, achieve rapprochement.

 

Arguing, I’d argue, is an essential life-skill, especially in these days of opinion-lead media and political chicanery. Seeing how people manipulate words, how they use logos, pathos and ethos to shape opinion – have these skills ever been more useful? This is, perhaps, the only occasion where the words ‘I’, ‘agree with’ and ‘Boris Johnson’ can appear in the same sentence: I think it’s worth teaching a little rhetoric (for this is what it’s all about, when you get right down to it) in schools to help prepare children for the adult world.

 

That’s what I think, anyway. Feel free to disagree.

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4 thoughts on “You cannot be serious!

    • I’d love to argue, but I fear you’re right. Although this does, of course, work both ways: and trying to convince another of your point of view can aid your own self-understanding

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  1. I’m quite a fan of debate/arguing myself, though less so as I get older, wiser and can predict my friends’/opponents’ responses due to the grinding repetition of unchanging well-established beliefs on both sides. I live (relatively happily) in a marriage where genuine argument is avoided by my wife leaving the room as soon as I begin to start one. While this is an excellent technique for conflict avoidance, I genuinely think a sincere discussion between us on the implicit sexism contained in Lily Allen’s latest anti-sexism video, would have been beneficial to both of us, but debate is simply not allowed unless my wife has consumed an appropriate number of drinks.

    I guess, she finds it difficult to disparage between my genuine anger at things that happen in my life and my detached anger at The Tories (etc). Though so do I.

    I think what I’m saying is arguing or debating is a very useful skill, but also quite a difficult one, as one’s tone must be near perfectly honed or there is a very real danger of genuine offense being taken. Despite a lifetime of debate both political and personal my skills are still not effective enough to allow for for the Christmas conversations you describe. I resist this around family as someone will always take something in the wrong way, and cross-generational political debate is always only a very small step away from ‘the immigration issue’. Where inevitably somebody you like will suddenly appear to be a massive, unapologetic bigot. Hmmm, maybe just my family.

    My political debating is saved for a select group at the pub, where I can be relatively sure no matter how far left my posturing slips, nobody will take offense but also nobody will take the slightest bit of notice.

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    • Yes, disagreeing with the people you care most about can be horrible. I too detest that sort of discussion and will actively avoid giving criticism unless I’ve had a really bad day, which is when it comes out really badly.

      Which is why pubs are so good, really. Pubs make all things right and shiny and arguments can be safely contained by their beer-stained walls.

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