I have a confession to make.
I used to get into terrible arguments with people online. It could be about all sorts of things, although I guess most of them centered around politics. It took me a long time, but I was finally able to quit doing this. I walk away from argument now. What changed?
First, I admitted to myself that my real motivation for continuing to argue was fear that the other person — or those following the argument — would assume I wasn’t smart enough to respond. I finally realized that it was just my ego getting in the way of walking away.
Second, I finally accepted that it doesn’t matter to me what other people think of me, especially random strangers online. I finally became mature enough — many years after this should have been so — for me not to be intimidated by the fear that someone might think I wasn’t smart enough.
These are things I should have learned as a teen-ager or young man. I guess I’m a slow learner.
I’m thinking about this tonight because of an incident I had on Facebook an hour or so ago. An English friend of mine posted a link to a story about something really bizarre that a person had done to his body — and my friend (rightly) called it grotesque. I commented that the bizarre things is that we are now supposed to pretend that it’s normal and healthy for people to do any strange thing to their bodies.
One of his friends told me it was none of my business, so I should move on. I pointed out that if it’s wrong for me to have an opinion about something which is “none of my business,” it’s also none of his business to have an opinion about me having an opinion. I don’t mind if people disagree with me, but I found his hypocrisy stunning. He wanted to judge me harshly for having an opinion — when the gist of his opinion was that I shouldn’t have an opinion.
After about my second response — when I simply made sure I had been clear about my point — I told him it wasn’t worth arguing about. And then I moved on.
If this had been 10 years ago, I would have still on on that page arguing with him right now. Even though it was clear his cognitive dissonance wouldn’t allow him to see the hypocrisy of his position — and thus I wouldn’t be able to get him to understand — I would have continued the argument because of the other people following along.
I would have been terrified that if I quit responding — or walked away — the other people reading the thread would have assumed I wasn’t smart enough to respond. And so I would have continued a pointless argument — all to avoid the shame of someone thinking something which I can’t control anyway.
At this point in my life, I don’t have the time or energy for arguments. I don’t mind clarifying my views or position for those who misunderstand something about what I’ve said, but I have zero interest in arguing with anyone, especially strangers online.
I’m not always right. In fact, I try not to hold too dogmatic a position about many things these days. I might change my mind about various things by next year or the year after. I often decide I’ve been wrong. So what’s the point in defending my ego, especially when I know I might be mistaken?
The combination of the ego and personal shame can lead people to do things which are completely contrary to their real needs. As I keep finding more things like that in my life, I hope I can have the maturity to continue to change.
I like the person I am now a lot better than the person I was 10 years ago. I hope I can say the same thing in another 10 years. Keeping a shamed ego in its right place can be a full-time job.