I come from a family of arguers. We excelled at it. It was part of our family DNA. I recall amazing dinnertime conversations with my parents and siblings that were enlightening and spirited. (My sister even won a national collegiate debate championship at Harvard.)
Before you get all McJudgy, there are two uses of the word “argue.” The more common one seems to be that an argument is a disagreement that gets contentious or emotional. The other kind of argument is the kind where information and evidence is shared, like in a courtroom When I say “argue,” I mean the second.
Nowadays, some of in our family enjoy ‘getting into it’ regarding whatever topic – sports, politics, church, etc., while others hate it and shrink from any disagreement for fear it will turn contentious or toxic. (Which can and does happen.)
For example: We were renting a car the other day, and they rep completely messed up our reservation, the manager was being obstinate and not resolving things. I kept pressing for him to fix it. At one point he stepped back and said, loud enough for everyone in line to hear,
“Look, I don’t want to argue about this.”
My response? “Well I do!”
He looked stunned that he wasn’t able to shut me down. (Eventually he realized that they had messed things up and fixed them.)
At moments like this, my lovely EC would rather disappear than hear me argue. (She is kind, gentle, patient, and anything that smacks of contention, or potential contention makes her super-uncomfortable.)
I have no problem arguing when it is about something I think is important, AND I don’t feel like it is driven by emotion. (I also find myself apologizing at times when the cool, collected argument begins to heat up and negative emotions enter the discussion.)
The world has developed so many venues and opportunities to debate, argue and fight. You wanna pick a fight? Head to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Quora or a dozen other places and you can instantly start as many fights as you want for free!
It is really easy to argue.
It is sometimes harder to NOT argue.
As I was thinking about this, my thoughts turned to the Savior as He was suffering the pain and humiliation he endured in front of the Roman leaders before His crucifixion.
“And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thous sayest.”
And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing.
Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee?
And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
What a fascinating example. Christ had absolute power in that situation. He could have answered Pilate with words, or even answered Him with destruction, had He chosen to. Instead, He just stood by and took it, without saying a word.
That takes some remarkable strength. Even Christlike strength.
I am not that strong. Sometimes, when I know I should be quiet, I just can’t. (Flashbacks to Roger Rabbit being unable to control himself when someone taps out “shave and a haircut…”)
Over the years I have improved greatly when it comes to social media. I don’t feel the need to get in the weeds and argue with people. I am also getting better at figuring out when people really want to have an honest discussion, or they are just trying to pick a fight. Either way, my online debate time has dried up quite a bit.
When Robert D. Hales was the Presideing Bishop of the Church, he gave a talk entitled “Lessons from the Atonement That Help Us to Endure to the End.” In it, he mentioned the account of Christ’s non-response to Pilate and taught this lesson:
“We learn a good deal from this in our lives when enemies contend against us and when we are falsely accused. There are times when it is best to follow the Lord’s example and not attempt to answer every accusation made against us.”
Elder David A. Bednar has added, “The Savior’s meekness is evidenced in His disciplined response, strong restraint, and unwillingness to exert His infinite power for personal benefit.” (link)
In today’s world, a disciplined, restrained response is becoming a rare thing. The strength of meekness that the Savior displayed is not readily on display in the public eye.
Being disciplined enough to bite my tongue can be tough at times, but I have learned that there is a spiritual element to acquiring this strength. Moroni shared his father’s teaching on the subject when he taught about charity.
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked…” (Moroni 17:45)
My time spent serving as a bishop was full of many blessings. I don’t know if it was just for me, or if other bishops feel this way, but I felt like when I received the mantle of bishop, I received an additional measure of restraint.
There were times when “Brad” would have responded quickly, pointedly, and assuredly, but the Spirit would gently hold me back and whisper, “Just wait. Don’t say anything.”
When I followed those promptings, good things would happen. I grew to understand the D&C 24:6, where it says “it shall be given thee in the very moment what thou shalt speak.” Other times, the situation would clarify, or even resolve itself without me saying a word.
Sometimes the correct answer is to not answer. I have learned, and am still learning that in all aspects of life, especially family relations, not everything that comes through our minds needs to be verbalized.
Sometimes what one considers as an interesting argument, someone else might interpret as contentious. There is an old saying that I cannot attribute that says this:
“The boys throw rocks at the frogs in jest, but the frogs die in earnest.”
Discussions that morph into contentious arguments can have those same results, online or in real life.
For me, “trying to be like Jesus,” means that sometimes I just need to shut up.
Have a great Sabbath!