Sunday, April 24, 2011


I recently had dinner with a colleague. We’re actually friends as well, but we hadn’t been able to connect much in the recent past so there was quite a bit of catching up to do. We went to a restaurant I’d never been to before and had decent enough food in a pleasant enough atmosphere for which he paid. I should have come home thinking ‘what a wonderful evening that was’ and I did not. I came home irritated, frustrated, aggravated and, if truth be told, probably a little hurt. I’ve been stewing about it since.

As I mentioned, in addition to being colleagues we have been friends for years – about 20 or so. We came to the college around the same time and were housed in the same office suite for the first couple of years. From that beginning grew a nice friendship – lunches, dinners, invitations to each other’s parties, traveling together. There was even a summer when he was between buying and selling houses and he spent 3 months in my guest room in exchange for help with a few household projects. It’s been a good friendship.

I say all that to set the stage – and because it is part of the reason for all the emotions I have been feeling these past few days. After catching up on our personal lives our conversation, as might be expected, turned to grousing and gossiping about work related matters and people. We discussed a couple of current projects that my friend is involved in, the joys and irritations of our students and their choices, the state of relations between our current administration and faculty on campus as well as the overall atmosphere/morale of the place. As they say, I should have known better.

My friend and I often differ in the way in which we interpret and respond to campus events. That, I think, is a positive thing. It is easy to get caught up in your own point of view on something and forget to consider (or flat-out ignore) other perspectives. I will often deliberately seek out his perspective on an issue because of that. In many cases, he has information that I don’t or an opinion that I hadn’t considered. Sometimes that information will temper my opinion and sometimes it will change my mind completely. While I try to approach events somewhat positively and hopefully, often his perspective is pretty cynical which keeps my Pollyanna tendency in check.

This particular time, though, was different. We were discussing an issue which we have discussed before and on which we have markedly differing positions. We have argued about this issue on more than one occasion and we both think we are right in our perspectives. While I still will consider his view (I actually wish his view was the correct one) I’m afraid that on this issue my view is probably a little more realistic. In this particular case, I’m the cynic and he’s the one trying to spin this to the positive.

So what does this have to do with aggravation and hurt? On this particular issue, he is dogmatic. He insists that he is right and I am wrong. When I attempted to argue my point, he kept insisting on his view. Finally, he demanded – ‘give me an example.’ When I was silent, he crowed at me ‘See you can’t. Because there isn’t one. It never happens.’ My response was, ‘You’re right, I can’t.’

And, I couldn’t. NOT, however, because there wasn’t an example. I couldn’t give the example because I am prohibited from giving it.
It’s not my personal example, and the people who have shared it with me have done so under the caveat that I keep it quiet. Privacy. So, after a few more moments of him pushing my ‘wrongness’ at me, I finally said that we needed to change the subject and we moved on. But clearly, I haven’t moved on. I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated by the arrogance of his position. ‘You can’t give me an example of this so it doesn’t exist. You are wrong.’

Obviously, he’s an intelligent man and should know better than to rely on this fallacious ‘burden of proof’ argument. It’s one of the first things we discuss when teaching persuasion and debate. Just because you have no hard evidence against an argument, does not mean that the argument does not exist. Yet, it is the position we want to take when the argument threatens us in some way – our beliefs, our self-image, our perspective. I’m not saying that my friend is not intelligent. He is. In this particular case, though, he is also wrong.

Some people would say to me that it is enough to know you are right about something – others don’t have to acknowledge it. I believe, many times, that is true. I think in this case my aggravation and hurt come not from his position, but from his refusal to even consider the possibility that he might not have all the facts – that there might be information out there to which he is not privy. That refusal, by extension, seems to be saying that I could not possibly have any information that he does not. Therefore, it seems to argue that I am stupid, ignorant, emotional, irrational, and wrong. It feels disrespectful. It feels arrogant.

We all think we’re right about things. If we thought we were wrong, we would change how we think. That’s only logical. And it is understandable that we want to believe in our own sense of reason. However, the lesson to me this time is the need to temper my own tendency to believe in my own ‘rightness’, and to remember that it is entirely possible that I may not have all the facts before I jump to judgment. Because that judgment, no matter how justified it may seem to me, might be wrong.


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