“You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to.” I don’t remember who gave me this advice, but there are two things I can say about it. 1. It has saved me a lot of unnecessary headache and heartache when I’ve followed it, and 2. It would have saved me even more if I hadn’t ignored it so many times.
As a lawyer, I am an advocate for my clients. When people are hurt and cannot get treated fairly, I pursue justice on their behalf. When two sides have a legal dispute, each makes their case to the court for why they should win. While this is often called “arguing,” it is really being an advocate.
The arguing I’m talking about is that heated kind of personal exchange between people. To be sure, lawyers can argue as much as anyone, which is unfortunate. Arguments start with someone setting the bait and the other one taking it. Maybe the other person really meant to put you down, or maybe they were simply misunderstood or were having a really bad day. Whether they meant it or not, how to respond is entirely in your control. Even when we feel like we can’t help ourselves, it is still in our control how to respond.
Experience tells us that rarely does arguing solve anything. It does, however, either give the other person the satisfaction of making you mad, or it makes a simple misunderstanding into something much worse. To choose not to argue, on the other hand, completely flips the situation on someone who is being aggressive, or it gives room for two good-natured people to come to an understanding.
Of course, if someone is treating you unfairly or the matter is really important, you should speak up. Sometimes we have to take a stand. But when we pause and think first, we figure out that most arguments are not worth having. Not everything said incorrectly needs correcting. And the hard conversations we do need to have are much more effective when done in a civilized manner.
Next time you’re invited to an argument, stop and think before you decide to attend.
Nathan Dickson is an attorney with Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C.