Fighting is futile.
For someone who spends such a considerable chunk of time laying out arguments, I’m terrible at arguing. I get excited. I raise my voice, and, according to my husband, I start talking like a journalist.
He doesn’t mean it as a compliment, but I secretly take it as one. From where I’m listening, I’m a rambling, flustered, stuttering mess trying to put my thoughts into words and failing to make them land effectively. That might be partly why I raise my voice. It’s not just because I’m passionate. I’m annoyed by the person I’m arguing with who just doesn’t get it, but I’m equally frustrated at myself.
I’m much more comfortable writing my point of view. With the written — erm, typed — word, I at least get to edit my thoughts, and when other people read them, no one can hear my voice carrying. Alas, as has recently happened in two exchanges with the same reader in the comments of two of my recent articles, people can still find a way to feel threatened and offended even when I’m not actually saying anything.
Any writer on Medium who reads the comments under their stories and occasionally responds to the negative ones must understand what I’m talking about. Sometimes readers come at you, insults blazing, and nothing you say in response is gentle and measured enough for their fragile ego to handle. It’s like they want comment sections to be dartboards, and writers are supposed to be silent, still bullseyes who don’t dare defend their ideas or themselves. When I respond to one of these stubborn, irrational players, all it takes is a few rounds to make me second guess becoming a moving target.
Ironically, one of the two showdowns with the aforementioned commenter was over an article in which I suggested that the best response to the N word is generally no response. I wish I’d taken my own advice when dealing with him. No one in the history of racists has probably ever stopped being racist after going to the mat with a Black person, and engaging in back and forth over opinions or whatever most of us argue about, whether it’s in comment sections or in person, is usually just as futile.
In my experience, fighting tends to be a losing battle where each side accuses the other of doing what they themselves are doing (“Don’t get defensive!”) and nobody’s ever willing to admit they might be wrong? Getting the last word seems to be more important to certain contrarian types than getting across any coherent legitimate point. Engaging in debate with them feels like banging your head against a wall — or talking to a Republican who has no interest in facts, science, or history.
Speaking of Republicans… I hate to admit it, but watching Meghan McCain, the queen of defensive, make some of her recent cases on The View has actually inspired me to be a better arguer. It’s not anything McCain has done or said. It’s how Whoopi Goldberg has mastered the art of talking loud by saying next to nothing when she’s dealing with her.
In a few recent McCain rants I’ve caught on social media, after she’s done, Goldberg has responded by saying, simply, “OK,” before cutting to the commercial break. At least one of those mega-loaded “OK” moments went viral, further underscoring the ridiculousness of McCain’s convoluted take on the British royals and her bizarre recommendation that we all go to Mount Vernon to learn how to be patriotic Americans. Every time I re-watch Goldberg laying it down, it hits my eyes and ears like a mic drop that’s so subtle it’s deafening.
This, I now realize, is how to argue. It’s a technique that probably would never pass muster in a court of law, but sometimes just one perfectly timed and delivered word is the best possible way to rest your case.