Arguing over a bicycle

Rational Discussion

I looked at myself and thought, “something needs to be done”. So I decided to get a bicycle. The more I read about it on Jacob’s blog, the more excited I became.  I mentioned commuting to work with a bicycle to my family. These are the positives and negatives we came up with.

Negatives:

  1.  Dangerous traffic
  2.  If office is far away, commute will take too long and be too tiring
  3. Washing up, bringing clothes to work, waking up early
  4. The bicycle is bought and forgotten
    1. To counter this, borrow a bicycle first to see if the commute is acceptable
    2. But there are no road bicycles to borrow, only mountain bikes
    3. Is the difference significant, is there possibility of compromise?

Positives:

  1. Green
  2.  Healthy
  3. Saves money
  4. Challenge, Excitement, a hint of danger

After we had put all the cards on the table, so to speak, we talked in neutral terms taking care not to attack the person, but to discuss the issue at hand only.  With the information we had, we put it to a vote. Ok we didn’t put it to a vote, I had the ultimate say in deciding whether or not to get a bicycle but I took the advice I received seriously.

A Real Discussion

Well, of course it didn’t come to that. I did not put all my cards on the table. The language was not neutral. Once I mentioned commuting to work, I heard things like, “dangerous, stupid?, borrow a bicycle first from A instead of buying, impulse buy, I know what you’re like.” I felt myself shutting down. I didn’t want to talk, because I felt that if I explained myself, she would steamroll over my explanation, and that would only aggravate me more.

Do Not Argue

When an argument becomes emotional, the facts become irrelevant, we argue instead to protect our egos. For example, I could construe the bicycle argument as meaning that I am an irresponsible person who has no regard for my safety, I am impulsive, and I am buying this bicycle on a whim. “I know what you’re like”  Phrases like this criticize the person’s character. You are buying the bicycle because you are impulsive. This encourages the other person to defend himself no matter what, If he doesn’t he has to admit that he is a bad person, and very few people can do that. 

Dale Carnegie talks about this. In How to Win Friends & Influence People, he says that you can’t win an argument. If you lose, you lose. If you win, you still lose. Suppose that you have triumphed over the other man, you’ve shot his argument full of holes and made him feel stupid. He will feel inferior and will resent you for it. The trick is to win the other person to your way of thinking, not to win the argument.

This is a very hard lesson to learn, not easy to execute at all.

Now that it’s personal, the facts become irrelevant. I must oppose them to prove that I am not impulsive, not x, y and z. They are wrong, I am right. Thinking like this is childish and simplistic, thinking like this, no one wins. They are unhappy because I do not listen to them. I am unhappy because I think they’re disrespecting me. Instead, we should be humble and admit to our mistakes if we are really in the wrong. Is right and wrong even the correct term to use? How about compromise, how about win-win?

Instead, my contribution to the argument degenerates into a silent death stare to discourage discussion. I’ve already made up my mind, there is no point in arguing past each other. This pattern will probably repeat itself in future if the mode of argument remains the same.

Dig Deeper

The bicycle argument isn’t just about bicycles.

Of course the argument never made it to this stage, because when people judge you, you clam up. No one wants their dearly held beliefs to be ridiculed. I think I get it. She represents safety and stability. She represents yoga once a week, a European holiday once a year. I fear I am already becoming like that, so I automatically oppose her to fight against what she represents.  The bicycle instead represents danger, the wind in your face, cars horning at you in irritation. This is about ignoring the naysayers and the self doubt. I want to set up an obstacle in front of myself. I want to challenge it. I want to feel the fear of failure. I want to fail spectacularly. Then at the point of failure, I can look inside myself and see if I crumble, or if I say, "that only makes the story more interesting." The alternative is that there is no story to tell. The bicycle also represents my other beliefs neatly – it is sustainable, it is exercise, it saves money when used as a mode of transport, and maintaining it myself (It is simple enough that I can learn how to do it on my own) instead of sending it to the bicycle repair shop would be a great symbol of self sufficiency.

A Neat Conclusion

It is exciting to live a life of your own. People can say that this can or cannot be done, but we make our own choices and live with the consequences. If people say it cannot be done, it makes it all the more exciting to prove them wrong. There is that delightful vindictiveness of the, “I told you so”. We realize we should not be so childish, petty, but the emotional satisfaction still exists nonetheless.

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