The art of arguing is like the art of breathing. We are constructing, critiquing, and making arguments all the time. We often think of argument as a conscious choice, but the winning argument usually occurs long before the fighter enters the ring. We argue because we must, because life demands it, because, at core, the arguments we believe can define our very existence.
Arguments are the hammers and nails by which I have, for many formative years, constructed winning endings to courtroom battles. I believe, as most trial lawyers do, we learn best from authentic and uninhibited truth. It is a gift that never feels complete until it has been passed on. Trial lawyers dream of sharing what they have learned from the human stories that have unfolded in front of us. Left without you, the listener, a trial lawyer is nothing but a repository carrying an interminable fear that all the pain, the self-doubt, the struggles, the failures we have experienced while learning how to make the argument will be wasted.
Argument is, indeed, an art. There is a technique to it, a mindset, but anybody can deliver the winning argument. Winning arguments are made in the kitchen, at the dinner table, the doorstep, the courtroom, the boardroom, at work – everywhere. The most powerful argument comes not from mimicking someone else’s style or values, but from tapping into our own divine uniqueness. But how? That is where the seeming magic of the winning argument lies.
By the time most of us come of age, the thought of arguing usually calls up dark, negative feelings. Inevitably, someone at sometime has unleashed immense pressures upon us, attempted to force us to accept their ways, placed limits on our potential, suffocated our creativity – during an argument. So how dare we argue? How do we argue with our employer who has power over us? How can we argue with anyone? And especially, how do we argue with the people we love? Why take the risk?
The human spirit has a way of springing back. It is never fully stifled. The argument within us may be weak, tender and vulnerable, but it is alive. By God, it is alive and it will grow! The trick is to discover it at the root, to cherish it, and see that it is a blessing that too shall have its day in the sun. Our ability to argue is a gift. In short, living life to the full depends on our ability to give of ourselves, and by such gift, to awaken in others their own voice. All we have to do is give ourselves permission to look around, to ask questions, to demand respect, to share our creativity, our ideas, to speak up, to search for love, to seek justice — to be.
Arguments are born out of uniqueness. I have arguments within me, that are of my own making, some of which I do not yet know. I have arguments that have defined me and who I am. Arguments that are currently supporting my life’s purpose as I envision it. You probably sense that you have encountered a few already. I make room for disagreement, and for your own arguments. For without the power to decide for yourself, and to argue back, you would not hear or understand me in the first place, is that not true? Without each other, we would be alone.
When we win the argument, what does it feel like? Is winning when we force the other to lay down his emotional and intellectual arms and surrender? Does winning mean that we must knead the enemy’s spirit with salt until they raise a white flag in defeat? If so, we will win the argument and lose the relationship, and we shall be left yapping to an empty room. Sticks and stones can break bones, and words can hurt people. Words can cause war. Using words as weapons to cause injury has given arguing its bad name.
Modern technology has brought us as a society to new, miraculous heights. Yet, in essence, we remain the same beings that, when confronted, often strike back. When faced with a need or desire there are those that will take by force from the weaker members of our society. We can split the atom and program artificial intelligence, but we still find ourselves nearly powerless to persuade each other to embrace justice. We can genetically modify our crops yet we struggle to, in the simplest of ways, ask each other for love. We have learned how to dominate the material aspects of this world, but when relating to people as people we tread wearily close to the Dark Ages.
We must and we can make small new beginnings in the way we communicate. In the same way that man’s technological journey has evolved since chipping away at stones to invent the wheel, we can learn better ways – simple and effective ways – of speaking with each other. When we look closely, we can see them every day. We grow and we learn to speak with and to hear our spouse and our children. We learn how to more effectively forward initiatives at work. Small adjustments help us enormously. We could do even more if we learned to communicate openly together with our neighbors, or the strangers, or the others. Communication is all that is standing between staggering breakthroughs. Once we learn that we can achieve our needs and realize our dreams through civil discourse, rather than by splattering human bodies on the soil, it could bring us so much progress and so much joy.
When I am convinced by someone else’s argument the experience is often the awakening of what I once knew, accepted, and have since forgotten. Such are the so-called ‘earth-shattering’ insights. The magic comes when we unearth a bit of truth within ourselves and in others. Truth is like jam: you cannot spread it without getting some on yourself.
Isn’t it true that sometimes the winning argument has no words at all? Most of us conceptualize of arguments in the form of contest and debate. But argument can also take the form of offering support, providing help, understanding, or cooperation. Arguments have more power when we vest genuine trust and respect in those we argue to. Demonstrations of love – without unstated conditions or manipulation – are the most powerful of all arguments.
Life is short. It should be lived according to our winning arguments, with the doors thrown open, free of the cocoons of convention. The art of argument, of genuinely communicating and listening, gives us wings. It allows us to speak what we want and dream without fear of banishment. It allows us to communicate our needs without injuring ourselves or our relationships in the process. It helps us to create, to play, and to be courageous. For God created us to do good works, and prepared us to make the winning argument, from the beginning.