Wednesday, August 23, 2006


The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.
– George Bernard Shaw

When tempers are frayed, and an argument is in progress, it is very difficult for anyone to listen with courtesy to an opposing point of view. If we could ask the mind on such occasions why it doesn’t listen, it would answer candidly, “Why should I? I already know I’m right.” We may not put it into words, but the other person gets the message: “You’re not worth listening to.” It is this lack of respect that offends people in an argument, much more than any difference of opinion.

But respect can be learned – in part by acting as if we had respect. We show respect by simply listening with complete attention. Try it and see: the action is very much like that of a classical drama. For a while there is “rising action.” The other person’s temper keeps going up; language becomes more and more vivid; everything is heading for a climax. But then comes the denouement. The other person begins to quiet down: his voice becomes gentler, his language kinder, all because you have not retaliated or lost your respect for him.
--Eknath Easwaran

I've embroiled myself in more face-to-face and online arguments than I care to remember. There have been literally hundreds if not thousands of them. I'm the first to admit that I often enjoyed the heat of battle, the adrenaline rush that lifted me out of my torpor, the triumphant sense of having gotten the better of my opponent. But these ephemeral feelings of pleasure were often overridden by feelings of frustration, hostility, and anger that were the longer lasting byproducts of my habitual argumentativeness. And, in the end, I rarely experienced the feeling I wanted most--a heartwarming meeeting of minds and hearts born of mutual regard and respect.

When I speak of a "meeting of minds and hearts," I don't necessarily mean mutual agreement on everything. I mean acknowledging whatever truths or plausible points the other person may state and honoring his or her humanity and divine essence. In short, I mean that what I've wanted more than the thrill of victory in debate is the profound reconciliation of dialogue--the ultimate sense that we cherish each other as persons more than we disagree with each other's beliefs.

I've paid lip service to this ideal for a long time, but I was never able to do well at following through with the kind of conduct that would foster it. I was too ready to express disagreement with another's religious or political beliefs, and even if I started out trying to be calm and respectful in the way I went about it, all of that tended to fly out the proverbial window the first time I perceived an insult to come from the other side. I quickly lost sight of the other person's humanity, not to mention "divine essence," and saw him or her as an enemy to be defended against, defeated, or even humiliated. Yes, there was a "still, small voice within" that counseled me to pursue my ideal of dialogue, but it was frequently overpowered by the voice that said, "Sic 'em!"

The part of me that speaks with that voice has retained the upper hand even into very recent times. But I've worked especially hard lately to overcome it. I still disagree with or challenge people at times over what they say, but I don't let myself take it personally and wind myself up if they respond in a manner that I would previously have found upsetting. And I try to listen, really listen with regard and respect to what they say. I usually find that there is something of value in their words and perspective, and I try to incorporate that into my heart and mind.

If I could do this consistently, if we could all do this consistently, the way Easwaran suggests, what difference might it make between persons, groups, and even entire nations? We often don't do it consistently, even when we try, because it's difficult, damned difficult to respect people who disagree with us, especially if they do it disagreeably. But even if we don't feel respect for them in our hearts at first, we can act as though we do in the ways we speak to them and act around them, and our hearts can follow.

This is how I want to live the rest of my life, and this is the kind of world in which I want to live the rest of my life. How about you?


Counter Mag said...

You are a very angry, envious and resentful man and no amount of effort in seeking the "blissninny" state will work until you have dealt with that reality. If unaddressed, your anger will continue to leak out in uncontrollable ways and continue to manifest itself in your physical and mental condition. Don't beleive it? Just watch and see.
Your denial of these facts runs deep and you may very well be unredeemable due to your overly willfull nature.

Nagarjuna said...

Thank you for your comments, my friend. I agree that unacknowledged or repressed emotions and tendencies can grow strong and destructive in the shadows.

Am I capable of anger? Of course. Aren't we all? Do I envy others? Sometimes. Don't most of us to some degree or other? Do I sometimes feel resentment? Indubitably. Don't you?

I don't deny for a moment that I feel these emotions and have these tendencies. But I do believe that when I and we acknowledge these emotions and tendencies within us yet skillfully endeavor not to let them control us, they needn't do so. At least not as much as they did before, and maybe less and less as we go along.

And I'm now putting that belief to the test of experience. Care to join me?

Counter Mag said...

Your brand of resentment, envy and rage can in no way be compared to the normality of others, it's pathological. The problem is that you are completely unaware of how these negative emotions have shaped, and continue to shape your life and political philosophy.
Keep brushing it off as you do and it will continue to haunt you like termites in the foundation.

Nagarjuna said...

My friend, I don't know what basis you have for calling some of my emotions "pathological," or for suggesting that I'm brushing them off rather than giving them their proper due. Perhaps you're right, but I don't know you, and I don't know how you can know me well enough to make such unequivocal pronouncements.

Nevertheless, I thank you for your concern and for your counsel, which I would like to believe are sincere.

Counter Mag said...

A part of you knows I'm telling the truth.
I've seen your disjointed rants here and all over the web.
Instead of using the name Nagarjuna perhaps a more appropriate one to demonstrate your level of development and reflect a bit of reality and humility might be Pollyanus. ;)

Nagarjuna said...

What level of psychological and spiritual development do YOU demonstrate here, my friend?

Jess said...

I have always found that when arguing, it is much better to argue the issue and not the person. Learned that from dad who just happened to be an attorney. Showed me the proper way to argue basically. I get into it at times but that's usually about my politics. Always leave yourself open to the possibility you may be wrong and be big enough to admit it, was something mom taught me also. One class I took while in high school (at the local JC),was an effective listening lecture. LOL, I have the certificate to prove it. My friends would say differently at times though, but that is usually about my politics like I said up there^^^. One of the most fascinating things I found about myself was I was always ready with the answer before I knew what the question was. Not listening to the person properly does that. Have since changed my whole outlook on that process.