The Conquering Instinct, Part 3 (final)
I’ve been programmed to conquer. The code is in my name, my DNA, and my environment. Like a pit bull named Beast is raised to be a guard dog, I’ve be raised to be a roaming argument winner. I’ve been trained to be a good listener, so I can sniff out an argument with very little information. My senses have been finely tuned to spot potential weakness in the ideas of others. Finding disagreement and arguing my case is as natural as eating and breathing.
But, if I don’t learn to turn my instinct to conquer off and on at will, it will prevent me from reaching higher goals. It will make it more difficult for me to maintain healthy relationships.
Here we go…
Some weeks back, a friend and I were having a friendly conversation. He had just preordered a video game for me as a birthday present. Then we got to talking about some internet personalities we both follow. However, my friend told me that he had stopped liking a philosopher I respect a lot. Conquering Instinct: Activated.
After getting a little bit more information, I started to aggressively attack his position (or what I believed was his position). I had to apologize later for coming off as condescending. I realized that I had made a hasty judgement about my friend, so following my apology, I asked him to give me a fuller explanation of his disagreement with the philosopher. However, that developed into an argument about philosophy. I restrained my most aggressive instincts during our argument, but I viewed it like I viewed any other argument: a fight that I needed to win.
Our argument lasted a few days. During the argument, I often had the feeling that we were not really directly addressing each other’s positions. He gave me some information to support his position that I looked at. It was interesting, but not particularly useful. I didn’t feel it did a good job of making his case for him. My friend’s supporting references were attacking the philosopher I like. I knew that I was emotionally invested in the argument, but it didn’t prevent me from quickly dismissing his references after quickly scanning through them.
We went back and forth, mostly just arguing past each other. We probably repeated our arguments back and forth for four or five rounds. It was extremely frustrating. It reminded me of all the internet arguments back in my teens. I felt like I had a winning argument that was being ignored. After a few days, we decided to just end the argument since we didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
After a day or two to cool off, I reflected and did an autopsy of the whole thing to figure out what I was doing. What I came to realize is that, although a bit different from my parent’s tomato seed argument, our argument over philosophy had basically the same value. I was finally able to let go of the unsatisfactory ending to the argument when I finally asked myself, “Does it matter?” Whether I win or lose, whether I’m right or he’s right, will it really change my behavior? The argument was just a distraction, abstractions taking energy away from things that I actually cared about and needed to focus on. I was stuck in my head and disconnected from the world around me.
So now that I understand the problem, how do I reprogram myself to argue with the right intent in mind?
I think first it’s important to follow the wisdom of Peter Griffin:
Who the hell cares?
Before getting into an argument, I need to ask myself: How will this argument make me stronger? I want to feel strong by winning the argument, but in the end, even if I win, will I actually be stronger? How will the argument change my life and behavior for the better, whether I win or lose?
Whenever I feel my instinct to conquer turn on, I need to assess the potential value in the argument. I should also include my opponent in the process of assessing the argument, too. If I notice a disagreement between myself and someone else, I should first make sure there is actually a disagreement. If I establish an actual disagreement, then I need to ask them, “So what changes if I’m wrong and you’re right?” If the answers that either I or my opponent give don’t look so great, then I should just say, “Well then who the hell cares?” and move on with life.
Sure, one of us is closer to the truth. But is the difference so great that it makes it worthwhile to argue the point at all? If I’m about to get into an argument about the date that Dungeons and Dragons was released, I need to ask myself, “Who the hell cares?”
It’s just that simple. Save the conquering instinct and the risks it creates for the important battles. That’ll make for happy relationships and future children capable of being “wrong” when it doesn’t matter.