Why You Don't Need To Argue With Everyone

From taxi drivers, to strangers on the internet, not every battle is worth fighting.

By Sharmadean Reid

24 May 2023

n a world brimming with conflicts, it is imperative that we embrace the wisdom of choosing our battles wisely. We find ourselves entangled in a web of endless disputes, both trivial and substantial, that drain our energy and divert our attention from what truly matters. Hence, let us embark on a path of discernment and deliberate action, understanding the significance of reserving our resources for battles that truly warrant our time and effort. Women’s energy is already spread thinly. Let us not spread it across irrelevance.

Not every battle you come across will be worth your time, energy, or focus, but also understand that conflict, if well handled, can cause growth. As the philosopher Emperor, Marcus Aurelius says, it’s also completely normal. If we are to exist in a social world and if we are to go outside of our familiar networks and communities, misunderstandings will swiftly follow.

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offender’s ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

By battles, I mean mild irritations, arguments and minor conflicts. The day-to-day annoyances. This isn’t about the war - which I would liken to significant life events and relationships that cross your boundaries.

Because arguments are physically and emotionally draining, I have learned to apply the New Method of carefully choosing which ones were worth my time. I do this in a few ways:

1 - Where are they coming from? Do we have the same values and ideals? Are we looking at the world from the same angle? Are we speaking the same “language”?

2 - If we are coming from the same place, what is their intention with their statement or behaviour? What are they trying to achieve here? What am I trying to achieve with my disagreement?

3 - If we are not coming from the same place, will I learn something new? Will this insight or wildly differing point of view expand my knowledge of a subject or community?

4 - What will this fight cost me?

5 - How will this disagreement affect me in the long term? Will it genuinely have an impact on my life and the lives of others after me, or will it be irrelevant the minute I stop turning my attention to it?

I work through these questions to come to a decision on who I’m giving my time. The last one is particularly important - will it be irrelevant the minute I stop turning my attention to it? So many times we give energy and fuel to a situation that has no real importance in the long game of our lives.

In addition to this decision-making framework, I also don’t engage with anyone who doesn’t have the ability to reason or be self-aware. Narcissists are a good example. They usually find it difficult to see another's point of view or to be reasonable within arguments. So I don’t attempt to. I have a friend who is always getting involved in fights with strangers on Twitter. She gets really stressed and worked up, holding her phone till her knuckles turn white and furiously tapping every response to the point where I’m worried she might bust through the Gorilla glass. My thoughts are always - why are you bothered? As my old Jamaican hairdresser used to say when people would discuss celebrity gossip - “Me nuh kno dem and dem nuh kno me.”

What will this fight cost me?

The New Method here is simple. Don’t allow yourself to march into every battle placed on your lap. There will always be people who disagree with you; you don’t always have to be the educator, caretaker and activist. Sometimes you can just say - it is what it is. Pick your battles, and think about attending them versus fighting them.

So which ones are worth it? Very few to be honest. I’m too busy using that brain space on myself, my family or my business. That said, given our current divisive and polarising world, I often feel like I’m going to learn something from a conflict. I think it’s important for the political left to learn and study the political right, so even though I don’t agree with the Alt-Right, I will often listen. I use these moments to build up my knowledge of an opposing argument, learn empathy and respect for other's views and practise my active listening, powers of persuasion, negotiation techniques or just compassion.

Buddist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, founded the Plum Village Retreat which aims to foster civil dialogue between two nations in conflict.

“For the past few years, groups of Palestinians and Israelis have come to Plum Village to practice mindfulness. When they first come, they are often suspicious of each other. They can’t look at each other with sympathetic eyes. But with the practice and the support of the community, they are able to calm their suffering, their anger, their suspicion, and their hate. After several days, they are able to see that the other group also suffers. It takes time.”

Why is this battle (one of compassion and understanding) an important one to attend? Because of Number 4 and 5 - what it will cost the nations and who it will directly affect in the long term. The generational trauma of literal war. At Plum Village, it starts small. The battle of meeting your fellow man in the eye, cooking together and sharing stories. This is a battle of empathy worth attending to.

What’s not worth fighting for? Bigots, conspiracy theorists. Internet trolls. People with bad manners. Spam calls and so forth. Anyone who has no actual power, but is determined to use their voice to do harm. Like Marcus Aurelius says “None of those things can injure me”.

Naturally, there will be times when the small stuff (see previous chapter) is worth fighting for because it’s a microaggression that if left unchecked, will develop into something more sinister and define the way we see the world. But do you really need to argue with every stranger who bumped into you accidentally? Or an irate taxi driver?

For the first time in my life, I recently met a climate change denier. I had just finished a shoot, and exhausted, got into a private taxi. I had two hours to get myself ready to do another event and shoot, that I was quite nervous for. The taxi driver began telling me how hot it was outside. “Well, climate change…” I shrugged before tapping at my emails, and he looked at me in the rearview mirror before telling me “Well… I think it’s all made up.” I stayed silent, allowing him to continue. “When I was a boy at school, 50 years ago, they said - ‘The planet is heating up’. They didn’t say nothing about climate change and it’s just natural that the planet is heating up. It’s not our fault.”

So, I am starting to calibrate quickly, working through my mental models. He was at school in the 1960s. He is British Asian. He is a cab driver. He believes this is a 50-year conversation. What does all this mean?

Given our current divisive and polarising world, I often feel like I’m going to learn something from a conflict

School in the 1960s was one of huge educational changes. Also post-war, the country might not want another bogeyman. Being Asian in Britain in the 1960s may have given our man a desire to fit in. To agree with disagreeable arguments and seem like one of the lads. A cab driver. His work literally contributes to the emissions. Guilt? Shame? Denial? And finally, he remembers a conversation about climate half a century ago.

As everything else is very personal, I start with the last one - “Well, you do know that the industrial revolution is around 300 years ago and prior to that, humans had never created such vast amounts of carbon emissions. You had steam trains, aeroplanes, cars etc. So yes, your teachers at school may have been discussing it 50 years ago, but there were warnings about greenhouse gases in 1896! We just didn’t call it climate change. ”

At this point, I can see he knows I vaguely know my stuff and that I’m also not going to let him continue.

So he tries a different tack. “I just feel like they’re charging us so much money to solve climate change and they aren’t doing anything with it.” Ah so now I can see it’s about his livelihood and the cost of his work. Like most public aggression, it’s about a personal fear of the threat to his way of life.

“I agree, public money is being wasted. I think it is always being wasted in every department. That said, climate change technology - such as carbon capture - is so new, we need to continually invest in it, to make it efficient. Just like we did with the steam trains, planes and cars. I hate the additional cost today, but in reality, if we don’t, our kids will suffer.”

At this point, I’ve stated some basic facts in a few sentences and I start making phone calls to establish that the conversation is over. This is not a battle worth continuing. He continues to grumble on but with less enthusiasm.

When would it have mattered to continue this fight? If he was in charge of legislation around climate change. If he was a teacher or in a position of authority. Then it would matter as his beliefs would influence the matter. We saw this when on June 1, 2017, United States President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, contending that the agreement would "undermine" the U.S. economy, and put the U.S. "at a permanent disadvantage." The knock-on effect was vast, and thankfully following the 2020 presidential election, President-elect Joe Biden vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in office. Once inaugurated, Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the agreement on January 20, 2021. The country formally rejoined the Paris Agreement on February 19, 2021

Knowing when to fight your corner or when to let things go works wonders for protecting your peace. You’re the one who’s prioritized your own time and energy, so who’s the real winner here?

The Short Stack

Not every battle you come across will be worth your time, energy, or focus, but also understand that conflict, if well handled, can cause growth

By Sharmadean Reid

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