The Curiosity of Arguments: It Depends If It’s Yours or Mine

The two older gentlemen were amusing me. But they weren’t amusing each other.

Their volume was increasing. Their voices were losing their calm sheen. Their facts were volleyed back and forth to prove their own point right, and the other man wrong.

Along with several others, my husband Jeff and I had gathered at our local public library for an interesting presentation on the history of our town. The speaker traced it back to the indigenous peoples, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, up to current city growth.

But the stumbling block came when a date was questioned from the crowd. Exactly when was the elementary school for the African American kids built in the 1950s?

Gentleman A spoke up from the audience and said the school was built in 1949. Gentleman B countered with 1951.

“No,” Gentleman A said, “it was before 1950 because I joined the Air Force in 1950 and the school was already there.”

“Wrong,” Gentleman B said. “I was born in 1945. I attended school first at our Black church because the elementary school wasn’t built yet. Plus, I have lived across from that school all my life, so I oughta know.”

How easy it is to be entertained by the gentle arguments of others, especially when the crossfire doesn’t involve me.

But with my curiosity now piqued about who was right, I pulled out my phone and googled the school’s construction date.

Both men were wrong (well, assuming the article I found was accurate). The school had been built in 1953.

I smiled to myself, but kept my mouth closed. The meeting continued on.

After it ended, I stayed behind to chat with some fellow citizens from my youth. One woman commented on how close I had lived to the elementary school years ago.

“No,” I said. “I never lived close to the school. My family’s house was several streets over.”

“But not when you were really young,” she replied. “You lived by the school.”

I responded negatively one more time.

Then I realized what I was doing. It was the same thing I had seen the older gentlemen do just thirty minutes earlier.

When they were disagreeing over a fact, it was amusing. But now that I was doing it? It was annoying.

Catching myself right in the act was startling. My curiosity piqued again. How human of me to argue over minor details! The awareness of this common tendency among us all was enough to stop me in my tracks.

Instead, could I hold space in my imagination for amusement about my own disagreeableness? Could I allow curiosity to win the argument instead of insisting on being right?

Some facts can be proven as right or wrong. Where I once lived was a provable fact. But not right then and not right there.

Sometimes you just have to let things go for the greater good, and let memories remain a mysterious and curious thing.

I stopped arguing. And continued the conversation with the friend as if she were right. It had been a lovely evening. Why spoil it?

The importance of maintaining a relationship was stronger than winning an argument.

* * *

When I got home, I did text my siblings though. We never lived near the elementary school, right??? They agreed we did not. (Maybe I haven’t totally lost my mind yet.)

Share your thoughts in the comments.

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16 thoughts on “The Curiosity of Arguments: It Depends If It’s Yours or Mine

  1. Harry Katz

    I’m curious — how many arguments arise from differences in our faulty memories? These two incidents are relatively harmless, but sometimes real hurt can happen especially when we (mis-)remember the words or actions of others. It’s a reminder not to get too wrapped up in our own certainty. Thanks for this post.

  2. Lynn

    This reminds me of another saying: Would you rather be happy or would you rather be right? I can have similar discussions, as you had with your friend, with my sisters when we “discuss” family events in our past. But those do tend to make us laugh. 🙂 I like this, Lisa — stay curious, not argumentative. To be curious about the wonders of the human mind makes us much more graceful to others, rather than argumentative.

  3. Dianna

    Oh Lisa, I loved this! Thank you for sharing it. It’s so true that it’s amusing when someone else is having a conflict, but when it happens that we are involved, well, that’s often a different story. Thank you for the reminder that some things are better left unsaid or to another time.

  4. Pam Ecrement

    So true, Lisa! We can easily forget that our memory ability is an amazing thing but doesn’t equate to a video recording.

  5. Jean Wise

    I love this how you are taking your word – curiosity – and applying to actual life experience. and that you were paying attention enough – a form of curiosity – to notice you fell into the same trap as those men. I bet God laughs at us human sometimes.

  6. Martha J Orlando

    What an amazing experience you shared here, Lisa. When we think (know) we are right, let’s not argue to the point of losing a relationship, but seek to understand the person with whom you disagree, being curious about their hearts as well as the facts.

  7. Aritha

    You are so true

    I found this post enjoyable and so relatable. I’m naturally someone who gives others space, even concedes, and then goes to the bathroom to Google who’s actually right. ???????????????? Not that I’d flaunt that, but just to satisfy my curiosity if what I thought was correct.

    Sometimes, we miss pieces. Showing interest in others is better than always wanting to have the last word, right?

  8. Corinne Rodrigues

    Ah, yes! In recent times, I too have given up arguing about things (except with my husband!). I see no point in trying to prove I’m right, especially when I know with all certainity that I am. In Hindi, there’s rather a rude expression to end an argument – which in effect says – ‘Whatever you say is right’! So while not saying it out aloud, I say it in my head to the person arguing and change the topic! 😉

  9. Lois Flowers

    That’s so funny that both men were wrong! I used to be more inclined to dig in my heels when I thought I was right. Over the last few years, though, I’ve been learning to add things like “here’s how I remember it” or “I could be wrong” when I’m sharing something factual. I don’t want to be one of those people who doubles down no matter what, even if I later find out I actually was right. It’s a hard habit to break, however. And no, I don’t think you’ve lost your mind yet either. 🙂

  10. Michele Morin

    I run into this all the time when I’m subbing. Kids will argue a point until it’s been driven into the ground and they have long ago forgotten why the point even mattered. I usually tell them, “Don’t argue. Verify.” And it’s so easy to verify facts now—provided the site is reliable.
    Of course, this points to a much bigger issue and that’s our human tendency to make an idol out of being right.

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