Friendly Fire: Arguing for Argument’s Sake

I have never lost a friend that I found in a foxhole. It is rare that a man will stab you in the back if he has made a habit of protecting it at the hazard of his own. To the contrary—a real friend stabs you in the front.

This form of bloodletting is not an act of malice, it is an act of kindness. Think of it as sparring. The point is not so much to demonstrate which is stronger where, but to shore up weaknesses that may be exploited by those who are less inclined to be concerned with our general welfare. These fraternal fisticuffs are war-games whose design is to prepare us for the ones that are not games at all. Call them “tender acts of violence.” These faithful wounds inflicted by friends are gracious gifts that toughen our hides without hardening our hearts.

This is one reason that we should learn to appreciate arguments. An argument is not an evil thing. An argument isn’t a fight. Fights happen because people don’t know how to argue. Quarrels erupt in the presence of excessive insolence and indifference. Arguments can’t breathe in such conditions; an insolent man won’t bother with reasoning and an indifferent man can’t be bothered at all. Whereas, an argument demonstrates that two parties care enough about the matter on the table to gather around it and hurl punctuation marks at one another. In the end who is closer: the two who have spent a few hours arguing back and forth across the table, or the two who refused to even have a conversation?

Arguments are valuable precisely because they express value. If one doesn’t care about a thing he isn’t not going to argue about it. More to the point, if one doesn’t esteem the other party then he isn’t going to engage him either. A good argument actually says, “I value the present topic enough to invest my time in it and I value the present company enough to share my time with them.” This means that a fundamental feature of every good argument is respect. We show respect by debating our brothers, not by dismissing them.

Arguing is often thought of as a vulgar and haughty enterprise; two peacocks, vaunting themselves, with plumes on parade for all of the privileged world to see. I think that such an idea is exactly backwards. It takes humility for one to put his ideas to the test. It is the proud man who deems his wisdom to be inscrutable and his judgments subject to no one else’s. Quite often it is just this type of arrogance that keeps a man bound in ignorance. He doesn’t know, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but he doesn’t want anyone else to know that he doesn’t know all he doesn’t know. Give such a man a chance to argue, let him be the one to refuse. Sometimes it is a strategic mistake to silence a man, because it leaves the world with the impression that he had something to say. Let his silence do all the talking. An argument makes a man vulnerable. Which is but another way of saying that arguing humbles a man.

My friends argue with me because they are my friends, not in spite of it. Through these bouts, our collective wits are sharpened, our positions are strengthened, our weaknesses are buttressed, our pride is tempered, and our mutual respect deepened. We have learned to think for ourselves by refusing to think by ourselves. Against those who say that arguing is not the best way to settle disputes, I say it is the only way to ensure that disputes aren’t settled for you.  As far as I am concerned, that is pretty fine argument in favor of arguments.

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