I Wish My Parents Had Taught Me Not To Argue

Hearing this song on the radio last week made me think about arguing about music with my sister. Those arguments only created unpleasantness, and I wish my parents had done more to stop them.

Think about How to Win Friends and Influence People and its principles. And now think about taking them to their extreme when raising children. You will continually make your children feel important, encourage them to talk about themselves, become genuinely interested in whatever they care about, etc. What kind of child does that produce?

I won’t argue in support of the claims made by the bemoaners of “Everybody gets a trophy,” but it does seem likely that following the principles with others makes it harder for those others to follow the principles themselves. Growing up in a home where parents treated you as the most fascinating person in the world seems unlikely to help you out in the real world, other than the general sense of self confidence it might instill.

But if you teach your children to follow the principles themselves, then there are benefits for all, something Lyn is regularly documenting in her posts for Hearts and Minds.

One particular principle that I wish my parents had violated more in order to get me to follow it is this week’s: “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” To wit, I wish my parents had argued with me more to get me to stop arguing with my sister.

I’m older than my sister and an opinionated person who generally thinks my opinions are well-reasoned. (Who doesn’t?) Being three years older meant my reasoning ability was always higher thanks to basic principles of cognitive development. As such, if my sister expressed an opinion that I disagreed with, I had more reasons why she was wrong than she could muster in defense. All this resulted in situations all younger siblings are familiar with: a general sense that your older sibling is out to criticize you.

I was reminded of this in the car on Friday when a song from 1999 came on the radio: “Mambo No. 5” by one-hit-wonder Lou Bega. I disliked this song when it came out, and my sister liked it; she even ended up buying the album it was on. I criticized the song often and with passion.

In my recollection, my parents did nothing to stop this. How I wish they had. They could have argued against me and my points. “Michael, what do you think the point of pop music is? Based on that, do you think this song is succeeding? Is it possible for you to dislike a song but for that song to not be inherently, objectively bad? What makes your tastes the ones by which all music should be judged? By what objective criteria do you think we can judge music? How do you define a bad song?” My own critiques would have fallen apart quickly.

And then, my parents could have introduced this particular HTWFAIP principle: “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” What was I hoping to gain by arguing about music with my sister? If the answer was “better taste,” then how would argument produce this? It’s hard to reason our way into liking something. I wasn’t winning when I argued about music; I was making things unpleasant.

I hope I would have understood their points and maybe started to think about the goals I was trying to achieve. I wanted to influence my sister, not criticize her, but the only tool I had at the time was criticism.

Thus, sometimes parents may need to systematically violate the principles (criticizing me, arguing with me) in order to teach children the importance of the principles. Sometimes modeling them isn’t enough. Treat others using the principles and you win in the moment. Teach others to use the principles and everyone wins for the rest of their lives.