Job, you might remember him, he had a wife and a business and lots of kids until God placed a bet with the Devil and havoc descended upon his life. He had some friends come to help him out, they sit quietly with him for a week as he grieves, then they start to reason with him, I guess his socially acceptable time to mourn had passed. The friends begin a process of trying to tell Job that the world is the way it should be and he shouldn’t be so upset, or something like that. Basically they are saying that he is wrong to feel slighted and should figure out where he has gone wrong, or maybe look at others who have it worse etc. etc.
Job responds “how forceful are right words! But what does your arguing prove?”
What a great line for us living a time seemingly endless arguments. Maybe they are global arguments (think Donald Trump’s role in the world, the war in Ukraine, the role of social media, housing and opioid crises in Canada…) or may be they are more personal arguments, should you take the job, leave the partner, should a parent affirm the gender pronouns of their children, should one live at home or go away for university (as though money isn’t a key factor in the decision!), should someone propose to another, or is one wise to have accepted a proposal this year, is it right to retire early or selfish. Morality arguments about food choices, health choices, vehicle selections…we sure can find ways to argue.
But what does the arguing prove?
At its worst the argument proves you are smarter and the other person “dumber” which is to say it hasn’t ‘proved’ anything worthy of attention or discord.
If the argument “proves” something you have no power over, then the question ‘so what’ needs to be asked.
At least some of the time I know that we have crafted an elaborate story to explain matters that we truly do not understand at root but since we fear the anxiety of said ignorance we make stuff up to make ourselves feel better. Imagine fighting (fighting!) over these cleverly wrought stories.
More often the argument is personal because (if we are willing to admit it) the argument is an elaborate defence of how we have lived our lives (did we go away for university or stay home and do we feel like we must justify what we did?)? In such cases we are not evaluating the real scenario another person is in, but rehashing our own lives and seeking approval for actions taken long ago. What a pity we would let that get between family and friends after all the isolation we have been through.
Let’s move cautiously: What arguments really need to happen and what is at stake in them?
Might I suggest we all pause before we visit Job (or worse the successful person we are jealous of and thus have to poke holes in!) and write out what arguments we believe there are between us and the people we are going to be spending time with. Not to write the ‘winning’ argument but to ask the more complex question of why this is contested ground and why we feel like we need to defend it. Sometimes we really do need to, but imagine those are far more rare circumstances than we generally suspect.
Mostly I think we would do well to listen, to help others feel heard, to affirm whatever we can affirm and occasionally push back a little. I know for my part I tend to double-down on certain practices when they get praised and quietly move on from some that I was testing out that didn’t garner any attention or prove useful in my life. Maybe a positive impact on others would come if we were more diligent and discerning in picking our battles and giving right attention to matters and actions worthy of our consideration.
The bible is full of characters picking the wrong battles and following poor reasoning, let’s learn from them instead of repeated the cycles that lead to disharmony and isolation, there has already been enough of both.