The joy of arguing

Arguing is underrated. Too many folks avoid their differences and see arguments as nothing but a source of stress. But why else would anyone read the Op/Ed section, peek at Youtube comments or study Plato? Disagreement does not always cause pain; we gain a certain joy from seeing others reaffirm or oppose our own views.

Of course, arguments come in many shapes and colors, some more constructive than others. Too often, two people attempting to reason logically with each other become two people shouting homophobic slurs at each other. However, an argument does not require even a hint of meanness. An argument is not a rhetorical crusade; just because someone doesn’t love Matt Smith does not mean they must be burned at the stake.

The Internet is an unfortunate breeding ground for this type of argument. Anonymity and physical distance allow anyone to say whatever they like, however they like. Forums and comment sections grow rife with pointless insults and petty spats. These occurrences can make “argument” a frightening word to modern minds. It sounds inherently malevolent.

However, arguing can be constructive. Maybe your peer still won’t accept that Matt Smith is the best Doctor, but you will understand why you believe it. Arguments force our own thoughts and beliefs into words. Going into an argument, one does not necessarily know why they believe something, just that they do believe it. Putting a belief into words forces one to understand the roots behind it, thereby strengthening one’s beliefs.

When this does not occur, and an argument is not constructive, the actual argument part of the interaction devolves into a fight. An argument may take the shape of a fight, but not all arguments are fights. The former is roughly synonymous with debate in that it requires reasoning. Arguments and fights are so often conflated that remembering they are different becomes difficult. A heated discussion of “X is better than Y” without any “because” can go few places before it becomes a cascade of insults or punches. Violence, verbal or physical, is not a guaranteed result of disagreement.

What makes an argument beneficial—and thereby different from a fight—is that it allows those arguing to better understand each other. On a grand scale such as presidential debates, arguments show how different people function and weave their thoughts together. This is a deeper understanding than that which comes from agreeable conversation. To be good friends with someone or to vote for a candidate, one needs to know how their minds differ. Neither friendship nor political support comes about from thinking in the exact same patterns.

No one has to win or lose at an argument; it is not a competitive sport. Rather, they are opportunities to gain knowledge, and, more importantly, they’re fun. A friendly argument is like building a sandcastle with someone else. You may have no idea what the other person’s contribution will be, but it is a cooperative creation. The end goal of an argument should not be to convert the other person to your views—that never ends well—but to allow them to challenge your own beliefs so you may build and improve upon them.