Meanings And Arguments

Have you ever found that after argu­ing with some­one about some­thing for some time you real­ize that both of you are actu­ally talk­ing about the same thing, but express­ing it in a dif­fer­ent way? If we were to look into the causes of these argu­ments the first thing that comes to mind is mis­un­der­stand­ing the mean­ing that your argu­ing part­ner had in mind.

The begin­ning of wis­dom is call­ing things by their right names, Con­fu­cius said. Well, what are those “right names”? Who says what the “right” mean­ing of the word is? Dic­tio­nary? Yes, that’s at least one way to start. But if we look a lit­tle deeper into it we will see that words them­selves have no mean­ings; we give them mean­ings, and sup­pos­edly the mean­ing that most of peo­ple agree with is recorded in a dic­tio­nary. That’s all very well, but when did you look for some of the fol­low­ing words in the dic­tio­nary to see what is the gen­er­ally accepted mean­ing for democ­racy, cap­i­tal­ism, abuse, gov­ern­ment, respon­si­bil­ity, integrity, love, hap­pi­ness, rela­tion­ship, mar­riage, lis­ten­ing, hear­ing, truth, etc.?

And how often do you actu­ally check if the per­son you argue with gives the same mean­ing to words, con­cepts, behav­iors and events that you do? Mis­un­der­stand­ing means “a fail­ure to under­stand some­thing cor­rectly” accord­ing to a dic­tio­nary. But what “cor­rectly” means is not the same for you and your part­ner. Unless you know what the cor­rect mean­ing is for what­ever you are argu­ing about with your part­ner, you may be argu­ing until you turn blue in the face talk­ing about dif­fer­ent things and try­ing to prove your point, at the same time not under­stand­ing how he pos­si­bly can­not agree with you, etc.

I have a self-proclaimed neo-con friend who is very hon­est, gen­er­ous, eth­i­cal and moral guy, and I am some­where more on the left if I must choose sides with what I hope are the same per­sonal attrib­utes I have given him. We, of course, kept argu­ing about pol­i­tics, and nat­u­rally dis­agreed about almost every­thing until at one point I sug­gested that we define the terms we were talk­ing about: such as free­dom, democ­racy, cap­i­tal­ism, social­ism, gov­ern­ment and such. What we found out was that in our argu­ment we were talk­ing about com­pletely dif­fer­ent things con­sis­tent with the mean­ings each one of us gave to those words. No won­der we argued ad infini­tum. Once we agreed on the terms we were using, we, to our sur­prise, agreed about everything.

Think about what it is that you repeat­edly argue with your part­ner and try to dis­tin­guish the terms that you dis­agree on, for instance trust, being heard, being rec­og­nized, affirmed, taken care of, respect, fun, hurt. What does it mean for you and him to be a man/masculine or a woman/feminine? What do you mean when you say things like you never lis­ten to me, or you talk too much?

Aware­ness exer­cise: The moment you start dis­agree­ing with your part­ner, start look­ing for pos­si­ble words, phrases and con­cepts that may have a dif­fer­ent mean­ing for him/her. Take time out and hon­estly ask with­out any expec­ta­tions what it means for him/her.

Next time we will talk about other rea­sons we may dis­agree. Until then please prac­tice find­ing out the mean­ings oth­ers have about the points of your disagreements.




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