Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

To Argue or Not to Argue?

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Oct 8, 2012 8:56 PM

Someone very close to me pointed out that friends are people who can argue with you, disagree with you, and you accept and care for them. Surely, family usually allows for much discrepancy of opinion, and this young man grew up with debate as part of the normal repartee of family. To some extent, it may be true that you can tell who true friends are by their ability to tolerate differences of opinion and share them.

However, I can think of so many almost-friends or former friends alienated by argument, different opinions and discomfort with the cognitive dissonance of each other's views and ideas. Politics and religion, especially, create sore spots in relationships. Tempers can flare and people get overwroght, threatened fearful and angry.

It's really hard to decide when to be honest with people. With a really good friend with whom you've shared many commonalities, experiences and ideas, it's surely fine to express honest differences of opinion, too, with respect for the other, including the ability to listen. With acquaintances or friends in limited domains, like members of an organization together or friends of family or friends of friends, who don't see each other in other venues much, it's iffy whether you want to argue politics or religion or other values. Why disturb the comfort zone, unless someone might get hurt immediatelyfrom their beliefs? I ask, do they really want to discuss the issues or just let me know where they stand? Could I ask a question or a few that help them specify and elucidate their ideas, not just so I understand where they're coming from but maybe to help them think it through more thoroughly themselves? Are they interested in what I think, anyway, or would I just be enjoying listening to myself opine and profess?

Also, sometimes, a friend wants to argue and sometimes they don't, depending on their mood and what else is going on. I think relationships can only tolerate a certain amount of controversy and you need to judge carefully how much each one can handle.

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