A few years back, someone once remarked that I don’t really post much in the way of controversial topics. I was a little nonplused at first. During that time, I was actually still very into the political scene here in America – and rather vocal about the way I felt about the topics circulating within. The remark would probably be more on the mark nowadays. I don’t pay much attention to the American political scene, and generally consider myself to be more apathetic to politics in general. When I inquired a little deeper, the individual remarked that I hardly added my commentary to topics placed on The Wild Hunt – and very rarely tackled any of the topics brought up there. Well, there’s a pretty good reason for it – Jason Pitzl-Waters already does a good job of that on there. But there’s a lot of other reasons associated with it as well. I don’t get into arguing or debate.
If you – the reader – managed to jump into a Time Machine and drop back to say, 1987 – you would find a far different “me” at that time. I spent a large amount of my time communicating with folks through the DFW metroplex (and beyond) on the Bulletin Board Systems. I debated politics and religion on a daily basis. Some of the debates, turned into insults fests – both veiled and overt in nature. I carried that over into my personal life, where I debated and argued the same topics during my work hours at Carswell Air Force Bases’s Data Processing Center. Unfortunately for me, I was placed on a shift with three Pentacostal preachers. The arguments and debates that ensued turned personal quite often – and resulted in hardcore barriers that I created to help protect myself personally. It was certainly a hostile working environment, but one that I had helped to create – so I was far from being the innocent in the matter.
In 1991, I was assigned to the Command and Control Center at Sembach Air Base. Here again, I worked nights, but had resolved myself to not allow similar discussions of religion and theology to take place. I fell back into the same old habits though. Politics was added to the mix – with an upcoming Presidential election in the wings. This time, I was more selective with my targeting of individuals. I debated people I didn’t worry about offending. When my rhetoric turned insulting, I typically was shut down by the other individual and the conversation ceased. I marveled at their “inability” to sustain an argument over their own internal beliefs on a subject. The reality was the exact opposite, only I couldn’t see it.
I separated from the United States Air Force in 1994 – and eventually found myself going back to school for a degree. I also found my way onto the Internet and the discussion forums located there. At both locations, I continued to find ways to sharpen my argumentative claws – shredding my way through debate after debate, and through friend after friend. In 1998, I made my way back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, bringing along my razor-sharp, shredding and slicing debate methods. I continued in my typical debate style – at work, with people in a social setting — and surprisingly (!!), the acceptance of the individual I was became remarkably lessened. Far fewer people wanted to be around me for company.
Its stunning how much you find out about yourself when faced with the concept of solitude. As G’kar states in Babylon 5 during a particular time frame in solitary confinement in prison:
“In here, Mr. Giribaldi, you can not hide from yourself. Everything out there has only one purpose: to distract us from ourselves, from what is truly important. There are no distractions in here. We can learn much from silence.” –G’kar, “Messages From Earth”
It took a little time, and some discussion with a good friend – and it dawned on me. I was not a friendly individual to be around. I argued and debated any point at any moment. I wasn’t trying to make a point – I was trying to “win” the conversation. There was no communication taking place – just me trying to drown out the points and perspectives of my opponent, whoever that could be. My friend suggested that I try to change who I was – and to utilize some Zen meditation techniques to achieve my own personal point-of-balance. It was going to be a lot of work – but it was worth the time and effort.
The first change I had to make was to learn how to listen. Communication is a two-way street – and the traffic has to run both ways. Otherwise, its just one person dictating to others the way things should be. Its this one area that gives me concern with my podcast. On the episodes, I talk. Its a one-way conversation. Just me spouting on and on about a point. I have no idea whether what I am saying is making a point or not. I do the same in my class lectures, but there I can see my students’ faces and their reactions. I’m getting that feedback that allows me to adjust what I am saying to get the feedback I’m hoping to see – an understanding of the point. Trust me, learning to listen is a skill set that you have to constantly and continually improve. I’ve adjusted and learned to listen better – but I will always be improving on this aspect of communication in my life. That adjustment will never stop until I take my last breath in this Life.
The second change I had to learn was that there was a difference between arguments, debates and conversations — and that I didn’t really want to have the first two. I know everyone has a different perspective on what constitutes a debate or an argument and how the two are different. I don’t differentiate at all. Its far too easy for me to slip into the perspective of trying to “win” in either perspective, so I have learned to pick my fights carefully. I don’t rule debate or argument completely out of the picture – I just insure that the topic that is being set into either situation matters enough to step into that role again. Good conversation, where each person talks about the topic at hand, and allows that different viewpoints are not only available, but a desired part of understanding the topic at a greater expanse. The “winners” are the participants in the discussion, who walk away at the end far more learned of the topic, can see another perspective (or five) on the topic, and have traded no insults (veiled or otherwise) between one another.
It all seems so simple, doesn’t it?? Its not. Trust me, its not.