April 20, 2023 • Louie Mantia @ LMNT

Ever since I was young, I had a reputation for wanting to argue. When any divisive issue came up, friends and family members braced for impact. And all this time, I have felt vastly misunderstood about the intent behind my habit for argumentative behavior.

There are more ways than one to argue, and different people come into arguments with different objectives. It doesn’t matter to me if someone disagrees with the other. It’s unimportant to me to expend effort to convince the other person that my perspective is the right one. For me, what I find worthwhile is reaching a point of mutual understanding.

Admittedly, this isn’t always clear from the start, because I think when a conversation shifts to an argumentative tone, each party thinks the other has implicitly agreed to their own invisible terms. In actuality, I often think each person doesn’t at all understand what the other is even trying to achieve by continuing.

I don’t want to be mistaken for not caring about right and wrong. I’m talking less about arguments based in matter of fact and more about arguments that are matters of principle and perspective.

What we do and how we behave on this planet is what we make of it, and any perceived rules were decided by people who came before us based on their experiences. Many times, those rules are no longer applicable or valid. Other times, those rules are just as true now as they were then. What constitutes “right” and “wrong” is often a matter of perspective, and I think even in extreme cases of moral dispute, there is nuance to discuss different perspectives. (I believe morals beget rules, rather than rules begetting morals, but that is a separate topic.)

Standards, norms, rules, and laws are not inherent truths. And in matters of principle or perspective, they are not relevant. They are only relevant if your argument is based in matter of fact.

So I struggle when someone attempts to present an argument (as a form of debate) with an intention to convince me their perspective is correct, factual, or that it is objectively “right.”

I often continue these arguments because I love the spirit of argument. What I don’t love is when anyone is so sure of their position that they are unable (or forget) to acknowledge that another position can also be valid, even if they don’t themselves agree with it.

Make no mistake, there is not room for bothsidesing many issues. It is not imperative that every issue has multiple valid (and extremely opposite) viewpoints. Someone can just be morally bankrupt. Someone can just be factually incorrect.

But when I find myself in an argument, I think it’s critical for me to attempt to understand the other person. I want to be there to listen as much as I am there to talk. (Admittedly, I don’t always achieve this goal.)

If one person enters an argument with an attempt to “win” by convincing the other, but the other person enters that same argument with an attempt to understand the other’s perspective, who comes away enriched?

I don’t care if you disagree with me. I care if you understand me.