Have you ever heard someone say something about you that you didn't agree with?
What about repeatedly, for like, your entire life?
Do you tell them they're not right, or do you eventually just accept that it's what they believe?
Will you inevitably begin to believe it yourself?
I didn't know a lot of things about myself until people told me. I didn't know I was loud until people started telling me stories about how far away they were while they could hear me laughing or talking. I didn't know I have a big nose until people told me that I do. (I love my nose.) And I didn't know that I like to argue, but people keep on saying it to me, so it must be true.
The thing is, though, I don't like to argue. I never have. I hate the way arguments frustrate me until I'm on the verge on tears (I cry when I'm frustrated). I hate the way my heart pounds when I'm angry or upset. That feeling I get in my chest when someone is trying to debate me? Same feeling I got when I totaled my car. But even worse, I hate seeing other people upset. It brings me no joy. I've never liked arguing.
I'm good at it, though.
Maybe that's why others think I enjoy it.
What I am interested in is dialogue. I love having constructive discussions. For many years, I helped develop programs designed to bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together to talk about issues that matter. Together, we cultivated spaces where people could feel valued, included and protected.
It feels impossible to find that kind of space right now.
There is a lot to be discussed at the moment. There is a lot of hurt, anger, fear, frustration. The problem is that we don't know how to talk to each other. I'm tempted to tack "anymore" on to the end of that sentence, but the truth is, I don't think we've ever really figured it out. We come to everything as if it were a debate. We assume that we are right-- universally right-- and that there will be one who will be declared Winner at the end of it all.
First problem? I don't want to debate. I want to share ideas. I want to expand knowledge and understanding. I want to listen and be heard as well.
Second problem is that I feel too much.
I am a person who desires the exchange of wisdom and ideas but cannot function in a passionless state. And I reject the notion that one's argument is only valid if delivered in a mechanical, detached state. I am not mechanical or detached. I am human. I am a person with complex experiences, identities and ideas. I am a person that feels. Everything.
I feel your energy; I can feel that of the room. I sense your agitation. I am aware of your boredom. I cannot consume pain, fear, isolation... anxiety, joy, excitement... I cannot consume any of it without feeling it deeply, too. I feel it through the people around me. I can feel it through this screen.
I feed off of it.
It can be wonderful.
It can be painful.
I take on what's given out, and sometimes . . . Most of the time? . . . Most of the time lately . . . It drains me. I don't feel fed right now. I feel empty. I feel completely drained.
My heart is in a million pieces.
I feel for so many right now.
But should I try to have those difficult conversations, my arguments are likely to be disqualified exactly because I feel. If I stumble-- if I do not conduct myself in the appropriately passionless manner-- I cannot ever be declared Winner (Care little as I might to "win"). And yet, this same passion that disqualifies me from debate also brands me forever as one who "loves to argue."
This passion that I feel so deeply makes me hate debate, allows my thoughts and ideas to be dismissed by others, AND forces upon me the label of someone who enjoys it? I don't get it.
I don't like to argue. But I still get told often that I do.
Maybe they're right. Maybe, despite years of internal searching and reflection, I don't know myself half as well as those who might spend a few hours with me on a good week.
Or maybe they misinterpret how much I care about injustice, coupled with my unwillingness to not speak up about it, as a love of debate.
Regardless, I'm telling you this now: I do not love to argue. But I do love to have discussions.
Come join me in conversation. Let's open ourselves up to new ideas and new perspectives, understanding that we don't have to accept another's truth as The Truth. Let's rid ourselves from the get-go of the toxic idea that someone needs to "win."
Dialogue. Discussion. These are so much more fruitful than debate.