When I first began exploring atheism and agnosticism, I joined some online groups and forums to learn more. I read books and articles and I listened to some prominent speakers on the topic. I became increasingly interested in debates and arguments. I would participate in existing ones and even start a few of my own.
There was a time when I would be very agitated over an argument. “How can he think that? Is he that blind or stupid?” Even though I tried hard to focus on the ideas being debated on, my remarks would get more sarcastic and personal and downright insulting. The more heated I became, the more heated my opponents’ replies turned out also.
There were instances when I was almost frothing at the mouth as I typed out my arguments, sure that this would stump the other side and finally make them see some sense as I saw it.
It never happened.
The more I dug in and became stubborn in my position, the more the other side dug in also. It was then that I realized that there had to be another way.
A few years ago, I was at a seminar and one of the modules in that seminar made the participants reflect on their childhood and their relationship with their families. In the sharing that ensued, it became evident that a lot of the issues people were presently having had roots in their childhood, especially their relationship with their parents.
The speaker then had the participants imagine a child coming up to them and sitting on their lap. Then he told us that child was our mother or father (whoever hurt us most), and to understand that they too were once children, also with their own hurts, pains and insecurities, trying to figure out life’s meaning while struggling to raise their kids, perform well at their jobs and juggling their finances, just as we were. They didn’t have everything figured out, and were perhaps a hair’s breadth away from breaking down or giving it all up, just like us.
In the end, we were told to forgive that child, to tell them that everything was all right, and that we understood. Then we let the child go as a symbolic way of letting go of all hurt and disappointment we had with them. The speaker then brought us back to the present, and told us to reflect on our present relationship with our parents, at least to those who still had them.
We would still have arguments with them, he said, because parents always have a need to be right, especially with their children. “Well let them be right,” he said. “Your job is just to love and understand them.”
These days, I rarely get myself into prolonged or heated arguments. The more heated you become, the more heated the other side becomes also. I have had to exercise a fair amount of self-control to keep myself from making sarcastic replies to some people who just want to provoke me. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. But at this stage of my life, I have decided to be more understanding and accepting. I don’t need the extra stress nor the agitation.
Besides, I have learned through experience that anger and sarcasm rarely results in any change from the other side. All that happens is that you get cheered on by people who were already on your side of the fence to begin with, while the other side becomes more entrenched on their side and less inclined to listen to whatever you want to say, even if you are right.
I was amused to find out that as I was reflecting on this topic, my friend Rev. Arnel Tan also chose to write on the same theme in his column for this week, The Nationalist Meets the Gracist, in which he says, “people who are so right and yet so rude, are so wrong.”
Remember, you reap what you sow. If you sow anger, then you reap anger in return. If you sow insults, you reap insults and resentment. But if you show kindness, you can cut through the veils of bitterness and hate, and start forging the foundations of mutual understanding.
Some time ago, I heard this quote from Wayne Dyer and every now and then, it pops into my head whenever I get into an argument. “When you have the choice whether to be right or to be kind, choose to be kind.”
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.