Pointless Arguments

“I didn’t say that!”
“Yes, you did!”
“No, I didn’t.  What I said was…”
“No! You said…”

Have you ever had an argument along these lines? Of course you have. Everyone has. And isn’t it almost always a complete waste of time?

The problem is, human memory is fallible. We all like to believe our memory is accurate, but the inconvenient truth is, it’s often unreliable.  Need some proof? Watch a DVD of a great movie and as soon as you’re finished, pick your favorite scene (that includes dialogue), and see how accurately you can recall the words spoken. Write down what you think they said, then watch again and see how much you got right. If you can recall even one line accurately, you’re doing well. (And if you do manage to recall one line, it’s bound to be one you’ve heard often, such as, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”.)

The problem is, not only is our memory fallible, but also we do not, generally, listen well to others – especially when we are stressed or tense or upset. And even if we do hear clearly, when we are upset or stressed, we often misinterpret what we hear. We will frequently interpret it in a more negative way than when we are in a good mood.

Now, even if we accept all this as true, when we are cool, calm and collected, we are likely to forget it during an argument. Instead, we get hooked by the, “I’m right, you’re wrong!” story. And once it hooks us, the argument will go on and on and on pointlessly. I mean these arguments never end well, do they? The other person never says, “Oh, you’re right. Actually, now I remember. I did say that! I’m so sorry!”

So how can we end these pointless arguments? One simple strategy is to say, “We both remember this differently and we’ll never convince each other the other is right, so what can we do now, to make things right?”

Dr. Russ Harris

21 Jun 2017

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