quarrel or fight?

…..they [men]  might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong.            – C.S. Lewis

I have noticed that there seem to be two kinds of persons that I find myself arguing with. (Even as I type that last line, I acknowledge the social distaste for “arguing” that is pervasive in our current society and so must let the reader know that no more than “disagreement” is meant.)  Where were we?  Oh yes – two kinds of arguers.  There is the person that will concede a point when it is well made and shown to have some merit. There is also the person who never openly agrees with anything you say. You know the one I mean.

What of the person who acknowledges a point made clear or a bit of reasoning that is sound? Although they may also wish to prevail in the argument, they have admitted that there is something they regard as more worthy than besting their opponent. That something is “truth.” When truth is grasped, opinion must take the subordinate position. So who wins? Actually, truth wins. I have observed that when this happens, except for our fine feelings, we all win.

When both parties can find common ground and criteria that they can agree upon, then quarrelling proper can proceed.  When two dogs contend for the same scrap of meat, it is not a question of who had it first, of who got the scrap last time or even who actually found this particular scrap. That would be quarrelling.  Quarrelling requires challenging the other person’s interpretation of known data or logical inference. This endeavor requires truth and sound reasoning.  Dogs don’t do that. Dogs can’t do that. Dogs fight for what they want! Many people do that as well, to their shame.

There is the person who will change tactics or subjects and steamroller on as if you had not spoken. I think there are a couple of issues in this that may warrant a closer look.  On the surface we see a potential rudeness that may or may not offend on its own, depending upon the local customs of the disagreers and their temperaments. Proceeding as if the other wasn’t there is not a reliable way to win friends and influence people.  But what could be the root of this behavior? Possibly the desire to put the other back “on their heels” and to prevail by force of rhetoric. In other words, to “win.” What is actually won is not clear. Possibly a scrap of self-congratulations or a public display of one’s cleverness might be salvaged as a prize. Certainly no relationship has been strengthened or clarity brought to the problem.

If it turns out that we, ourselves, have run afoul of truth, then let us have the fortitude to repent our false ideas and be glad that truth has won. Let us also be gracious in our times of being on the right side when truth prevails, knowing that our day of humility will surely come.

Now the question is: “Which person am I?”

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One Response to quarrel or fight?

  1. A good question. Too often in my youth I was the unaffected. From the win or die trying school of rhetoric. It’s an interesting notion this post brings to mind–the idea that, for most of us, most of the time, argumentation is only useful up until the point it fails as a winning strategy. Rhetoric as sword and not as plowshare. As you imply, we should try harder to soften in the face of truth–if not absolute Truth, then at least reasonable facsimile.

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