Choosing Your Battles


You may have noted from many of posts and especially from my twitter feed that I can be a bit of a reactionary. I’ve on occasion then been called a Moral Guardian, Daily Telegraph reader or a Troll for that. Because I understand, I believe, many of my own shortcomings, I’ve said in response to received criticism like that: Fair Call.

I’ve held off on this post for some time, as don’t want to write too many introspective posts on this blog. But I believe it is worthwhile putting the hand up once in a while and saying: “Yep. That’s me. I’m an idiot”

Pointing out flaws in things is actually pretty easy for someone like me. But I’ve started to discover (over the last 30 years or so) that being an effective critic is hard work. UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan puts in a stunningly simple way (inspired by Orwell) when he writes in his article this week called Generous Anger:

The difficult task is summoning the right amount of anger with the right amount of generosity of spirit.

For one, when you make that criticism, you need to ensure you are doing it in a way which points out positive ways of doing it instead. That means off the cuff ranting is out, without framing it in a positive direction.

If you have kids, you already know this. If you don’t, well just believe me. While it’s easy to “give out” (as we say in Ireland) to the kids when they do something wrong (or don’t do something right if you get my drift), it’s better and often harder after the 400th time of asking to show a child why things should be done a certain way or what the alternative is to their method of “discovery”.

Just as if a cyclist rudely  forces his way past  you on a narrow footpath, the best move is to tell him there’s a grand wide road which the rules say he should be on and to leave it at that. Our natural defences usually cause people to get all het up if there are perceived criticism made. Especially when you already know you doing something not quite right.

Continuing the argument, especially when the other is in no mood to listen to what is “right” however, isn’t the best move. I think someone called it “choosing your battles”. Strategic retreats are often better ways of winning the war in the long term. That’s probably in The Prince or The Art of War. I should read those books again.

Allowing people, children or cyclists, to get their way or walk all over you is not something I would ever recommend. But getting involved in a circular argument, especially with a child (or someone childlike) is more likely to drag you down to their level than for you to get the result you want. I mean how do you prove you are right to someone who is either lacking the intellectual ability to understand what they are doing wrong or has no the interest in disrupting their self-benefit?

So you don’t, or at least I shouldn’t, because as I read tonight on Intelligent Challenge

you may well win the argument, but in doing so, what has been the cost?

Lets be honest here. When I get into arguments with people, I get more than a little introspective afterwards. Sometimes it almost feels like depression. That’s my cost. When I’ve scolded the kids, they can’t really understand what they’ve done wrong, because most often I haven’t explained that to them (even if they did understand), they get upset. That’s their cost. I’m sure there is a cost when it happens with others. Speculating here, but it might even extend to the extreme of losing friendships or violence. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be responsible for that.

I started this blog to rediscover writing after a 15 year hiatus and to get some ideas out of my head. I didn’t start it to discover how to market myself. What I have discovered is that I am observing my own behaviour through others. So in some ways it has also become, at least partly, a process of self-discovery.

Blogging a good old reactionary post, especially with a nice bit of link bait in the headline, is usually the one which drags in the links. But having looked in from the outside at the stupid spat between blogger celebrities this week, I’ve come full circle and decided that doesn’t really interest me anymore.

I’ll never promise to totally stop my reactionary behaviour, or write the odd ranty post (especially on twitter), but – and you may not believe this – I most often prefer to “constructively explore the issue and provide and alternative” rather than pursue the “socratic argument” so preferred in our political, legal and other discourses. And try and extend that rule to personal interactions as well.

As you know I don’t do resolutions, but as I wrote in the comments of the Intelligent Challenge Blog I mentioned before:

It’s a large mental movement, so forgive me if it takes some time.

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2 thoughts on “Choosing Your Battles

  1. Could it be that you’re all grown up and mature now? ‘NEVER’, I cry. Reactionary behavior defines you (well, what I remember of you anyway). Still, taken with a mild dose of introspective deep breathing and the wisdom of parenthood, you might just have redefined ‘you’. The wisdom of age my friend. I store mine in my massive beer belly…also a symptom of age in my family.

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