Why Arguing With People Will Improve Your Health & Overall Well-Being
“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes…[but] because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions — especially selfish ones.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Have you ever tried to have a serious discussion with someone who strongly disagreed with you?
It’s frustrating, isn’t it?
Kind of like butting your head against a concrete wall, or trying to make your way around in Cambodia without speaking a lick of Cambodian.
You respect the person, and they you (otherwise you wouldn’t be having the “serious discussion” in the first place), yet you can’t understand why an otherwise intelligent, loveable, fantastic person doesn’t see things the way you do.
In fact, why doesn’t EVERY intelligent person see things the way you do?
(Not on things like picking favorite Ugg boot colors, of course, you know very well that people are entitled to their inexplicable fondness for magenta, however much you might personally dislike the color).
But when it comes to important issues, issues that affect everyone (say, perhaps, who would and would not make a great president, etc, etc)…how could anyone NOT see things the way you see them? The truth is so clear!
Actually, it’s not.
Not because there is no truth, or that the truth is murky…
But because we don’t want to see it.
Why We Ignore the Truth
A teacher once told me how he revealed to his young son that Santa Claus was not real. The boy cried all the way home from school, and when they arrived, my teacher got chewed out by his wife for telling their son the truth.
We smile sadly at stories like this, because while Santa Claus is a nice fairy story for little kids, we know it is ultimately better for the boy to know the truth in the end. Yet we also know that for a small child, this kind of truth hurts. He wants Santa to be real, and Santa’s nonexistence really rips his world apart and turns it upside down.
In many ways, we adults still have that small child within us when it comes to certain things. There are things that we all WANT to be true, but…well…they aren’t. As they say*:
It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
Looking For Truth is Critical to Your Health
The truth can often be painful.
But we need it, in the same way we need antibiotics that fight off infections, guardrails that keep cars from plunging over mountainsides, and safety harnesses that keep us strapped safely on the roller coaster of life.
Truth is critical for every arena of life, from the correct answer on a math test to the true identity of the person trying to access a bank account.
We especially need truth in the areas that most people are afraid to poke with a two-yard stick: areas like politics and religion.
We’re often told not to discuss issues like politics, religion, or philosophy in “polite society,” because they are so divisive. And the reason why they are divisive is because they are important. These are worldview issues.
The truth is relatively easy to find and agree on when it comes to things like, say, science: either antibiotics kill germs, or they don’t. But when it comes to worldview issues, finding and upholding truth is far trickier.
Because when you’re talking politics, religion, mental health (and other related issues), you’re not just discussing favorite ice cream flavors, you’re discussing things that will change society, and people’s lives.
When we are talking about these kinds of things, we need to be serious. We need to be truthful. But many of us aren’t…not with each other, not with ourselves.
The Truth Can Be Extremely Costly
Nabeel Qureshi, a writer and speaker who passed away last year once said:
“people who want to avoid the truth usually succeed”
When Nabeel was debating faith/worldview issues with his best friend David, David asked him, essentially
“Nabeel, if the truth is not what you think it is, would you want to know it?”
Nabeel was surprisingly honest in his response: “Yes and no,” he said. “I do want to know the truth, but I also don’t want to give up the life I am used to if, in fact, the truth is not what I think it is.”
Nabeel had built his entire life around a system of beliefs that he treasured, and that his family and people in his social circle valued. If that belief were proven false, it would require him to sacrifice his family, his friends, everything he knew and loved. If he chose to embrace the truth while his loved ones continued to embrace an illusion, that would damage their relationship — perhaps irreparably.
Nabeel didn’t want that, of course. No one does. In that case, it would be easier just not to acknowledge the truth at all.
This is the case for many people who are interested in seeking out the truth, especially in the really important arenas, like the ones mentioned above.
There are a lot of ingrained but untrue ideas out there that are passed on generation to generation and widespread across huge swathes of people. Some of them are not important, but the ones that are important will cause great pain when the truth is revealed.
Sometimes, truth is costly. Very, very costly.
Facing the Truth Starts With Us
I truly admired Nabeel’s integrity in his conversation with David. After all, how many of us are honest enough with ourselves to admit that we’re not always honest with ourselves?
It’s easy to spot when others are deliberately burying their heads in the sand, but how often do we question ourselves, and try to look for the blind spots and emotional barriers in our own lives?
What truth am I ignoring because I am unwilling to pay the price to know it?
We can’t expect to “win any debates” or persuade anyone of anything important unless we are first truly, brutally honest with ourselves about the most important things in life: our worldview, our beliefs.
The Truth Will Set Us Free
I know I struggle with the truth.
It’s one of the reasons I write, actually. Especially about things like philosophy, morality, faith/religion.
I don’t actually like confrontations, and in real life, I tend to be one of those “don’t talk about this stuff in polite society” people.
But I’ve got to do it, because finding the truth — especially the truth about important things — is worth the effort.
Sometimes I attract people who disagree with me, and I’m happy to engage with them. Because I know that if I do it honestly and respectfully, they can all teach me something new, maybe even change my worldview.
It’s not always pleasant to be told you’re wrong, but it’s necessary.
I’ve learned this lesson more keenly in the years since I developed an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder is basically a big emotional lie rooted in your head. Never have I been more aware of the importance of locating and removing lies and telling myself the truth.
I hope you feel the same way too. We all have blind spots, certain truths that are harder for us to stomach than it is for others.
But if we help each other out by looking for then telling each other the truth kindly and respectfully, we destroy the limiting lies and help each other realize our potential, improving our mental, physical, and moral health.
In other words,
We will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
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*Quote erroneously attributed to Mark Twain