How Arguing is my Plague and my Joy

I like to argue.  It’s not exactly a positive character trait, but when you’re good at it, it’s something you tend to do.  In college, all the career placement tests told me to be a lawyer.  I ran far away from that one and chose the much more lucrative career of teacher.

But with the desire and skill to argue comes some pretty annoying downsides.

The main one is when I argue for my own defense, what many people wisely call “being defensive.” If someone calls me on a sin, I have about 200 arguments at the ready to combat the accusation…and most of them are pretty dang good.  This knee jerk reaction causes me to avoid that still, small voice that’s saying “Hey, she’s got a point.”

But when I respond defensively, I’m not really fooling anyone.  Because if there’s anything that signals a problem, it’s the urge to stridently defend oneself.  I think the author of How People Change describes it best by explaining how people respond when their idols are threatened (what the book calls applied “heat”).  They get all huffy and argumentative.   If someone is calling you on a sin, and you throw a ton of counterarguments against them rapid fire, it’s basically just proving that person right.

You know that line in You’ve Got Mail, where Tom Hanks is telling Meg Ryan why his quick tongue is a curse? He says that even if you know the right thing to say at the right moment, inevitably you’ll regret it later.  It’s a curse, believe me.

In addition, when you’re good at arguing, you like to “go for the win.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendly discussion about the shape of a particular cloud, you have the best evidence to present, and therefore, that cloud is what you make it to be. You go for it, like a dog with a bone.  No matter the relative importance of the discussion.

Oh, and I might be in a minority with this one, but I like to play the devil’s advocate for argument’s sake.  An argument is a safe turf for me.  So I’ll strike one up when the mood suits me.  “You say that exercise is good for you, but don’t you know that it’s the leading cause of heart attacks over the age of 60?”  See what I mean…pointless…and often not very productive  (By the way, I’m pulling that statistic out of my butt, another “good” skill I have.).  It’s sort of like if a gymnast suddenly started turning cartwheels in the middle of traffic.  Pointless, a little showy, and dangerous to her and everyone else involved.

I don’t mean this to be an exercise in self loathing.  But in the name of the full disclosure I typically have on this blog, I thought I’d spill a little about the not so pretty side of my personality.  I’m in hopes that others share my problem and are willing to confront it as well.

And no, I’m not saying that debate is a sin.  A good sparring round with someone who has a similar proclivity can be an iron sharpens iron experience, a battle of wits and wisdom.  I’m a fan of debate tournaments for this reason.

But with all personality traits, there’s a sinful potential as well.  A shy person can fully disengage from community.  A talkative person can refuse to shut up.  A social person can continually claim the center of attention.

And with me, my strength can also be my greatest weakness.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits”(Proverbs 18:21).

And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue”(Proverbs 31:26)

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I identified with every.thing. you. said.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, which I did not take to be an excersize in self loathing but a good critique (and sometimes those are necessary). Sometimes, like today, they can also be beneficial to others.

    (And I DID end up going to law school for a year before I figured out that wasn’t the best option for me!)

    AL: Carrie, thanks so much for your support and also your own willingness to critically confront your own habits. Wow, and law school probably just encourages this kind of behavior. To tell the truth, people advised me that law school would probably further develop this negative aspect of my personality, more than teach me the self control i needed. And of course, I argued back against them. =) But, eventually, it was a big factor in choosing a different career path.

  2. Eight Jews, ten opinions…or so goes the joke.

    Arguing makes one think, but you are so right, a prolonged self defense is usually a tip off that the other person is right.

    Been busy streamside too. Love that B. loves fishing, so I can tag along and take pictures!

    AL: I’ve been enjoying your fishing pics! Mom takes the photos when she and dad go fishing, too. Dan and I trade the camera off and hope it doesn’t fall in the water!

  3. Since I’m a lawyer who has really enjoyed both the study and practice of law, and have found both to be positive in my personal development–especially learning how to tame my argument beast 🙂 this will likely read as “arguing for my own defense,” but here goes anyhow… 😉

    The study of law is actually a very objective exercise. You can’t develop strong, useful arguments, until you can evaluate both sides of a problem. And advocacy doesn’t necessarily equal argumentative.

    In Legal Writing I (a class every first year law student must take) you’ve got to learn objective writing before you can learn pursuasive writing. This theme of objectivity before pursuasion is carried throughout the study of law, and when done right, the practice of law as well.

    That’s just my lil’ bit…not that everyone wants to be a lawyer, but lawyering skills in themselves are very positive.

    Tell me, objectively, was I defensive? I can’t always tell, but tried not to be 🙂

    Cheers, Erin

    AL: Not touching that one with a 10 foot pole! But it’s great to hear from you Erin, and your thoughts are always welcome and appreciated here. =) I’m supportive of the profession and the people in it (and I hope my post didn’t imply the opposite!).

  4. Amy, you and I could be twins. I recently found myself mid-argument trying to decide if I should bring up things from the past to help make my case, or use the element of surprise by predicting the future in an effort to win the argument and prove why I was most definitely not wrong. It was in that moment that I realized I was grasping (even though I probably could have won by going either way!) and just needed to apologize and end it. I don’t know why, but whenever I’m in an argument, I rarely deal with the “present” stuff, I always go to the past or future. I must feel like I need a little extra ammo. Thanks for sharing here.

    p.s. It’s great to see you here Erin =). I’ll never forget at our reunion when they encouraged people to get out and mingle by saying “Be sure to visit with Erin the Defense Attorney and Ross the Missionary.” It was kind of the kiss of death for both of us, huh?

    AL: Thanks for sharing Ross. I didn’t remember that’s how you guys got introduced at our class reunion, but wow! I totally sympathize with the example you gave as well. In marriage especially, it’s hard not to use old failures as ammo. Isn’t there as statute of limitations on spousal failures used as evidence? There should be. And it’s so hard to “give in” and just apologize. That’s my constant struggle!

  5. I’m one of the shy ones and am very good at disengaging! My struggle is somewhat opposite of yours.

    AL: You know what’s especially tough, is when an arguer is married to a disengager. The arguer backs the shy one in the corner. Neither is doing the other a favor. Not that either personality type is a sin, but we all have our easiest modes of coping that can be detrimental to others, which totally goes against that whole “love they neighbor” and be a servant business. =)

  6. What an utterly delightful look into someone’s personality.Yes debate and devil’s advocate two things I tend to enjoy myself.Unfortunayly most of the people in my little section of the universe just don’t understand the fun to be had this way….Good for you……I’m still trying to get one person I know to understand that a good healthy debate is not realy an argument….Do you have a stubborn streak to go along with every thing else????? I realy enjoyed reading this..


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