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.