Framing an Argument for Change

When my husband and I first got married, almost 8 years ago (which blows my mind that it has been that long already) I had just graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and was sporting a brand new BA with a double major in anthropology and English. I had just spent a year abroad in England (which I loved) and had NO clue what on earth I was going to do with the rest of my life. Moving from Boulder I was somewhat stereotypical of “Boulder” in my thinking; liberal, environmentally conscious, health conscious, highly idealistic and let’s face it, pretty darn “crunchy.” My husband, on the other hand, when I met him was a fairly focused, logical, right-wing leaning cultural main-streamist, so to speak. During the first few years of our marriage we often got into heated arguments about politics and there were a number of occasions when a stuffed animal or two may have been launched across the room at one another in frustration (ok, mostly by me). We came from totally different political viewpoints. However, it was this constant head-butting that helped forge my arguments on things that I felt were important into much more complex and persuasive arguments. Because of that we have since found ways to meet much more in the middle. And it is that process which gives me hope that there is a way to meet in the middle on America's political front in a way that would improve the situation of families in America.

I clearly recall the primary incident that was the tipping point for me although the specific details have long since escaped me. It was an environmental controversy that had been published in the paper shortly after we were married involving Oregon somehow, if I remember correctly. As I was pouring the milk onto my cereal, I shook my head from side to side and said, somewhat sanctimoniously, “Isn’t that such a shame. That is so wrong. I can’t believe they are allowed to get away with that.”

To my horror my husband responded, “Why not? What’s wrong with it?” As I stared across the table at the now stranger who was my husband, I began to yell, “How on earth can you defend those monsters? What they are doing is so clearly wrong!”

“Why is it wrong?”

“It just is! How can you even be saying that? What’s wrong with you?”

Now, this argument went on for quite a few days. Periodically I would press my point, “It just isn’t fair!” “It’s wrong” “It is unconscionable” ”You HAVE to agree with me” etc…. But, my stoic husband, unfazed by my near hysteria just kept asking, “Why is it wrong? How should it happen? What can be done to fix the problem? How would you persuade the people with the money to change their minds?”

Finally I was so utterly disgusted with his obvious lack of empathy I just stopped talking to him, full stop. Two days ticked by as I stewed in irritation and disgust. Then slowly, so slowly it began to dawn on me what he was trying to get me to do. He wanted me to set aside my emotions on the issue and give him a rational argument for WHY it was wrong. *DING* A light went on in my head and I began to think.

It is here in the story that I cannot properly recall all the details, but the issue we were fighting about had something to do with trees and water rights and environmental impact and I very clearly remember my final argument. “Ok honey, if company X proceeds with their plan….they will not just be impacting their own state, but they will be impacting the surrounding states water and environments in ways that they will have no say in. This in turn might affect their economy and therefore it is clearly shortsighted and myopic for Company X to proceed”

A huge grin broke out on my dear husbands face and he responded, “FINALLY! A real argument! You figured out that emotional rationale gets you nowhere. It may be great motivation and is important for you to get a fix on your passions, but does very little to further your goals since we do not live in an idealistic society. You have persuaded me. I agree that what Company X is doing is wrong.”

  It was a huge growing up point for me and I have never forgotten it. Whenever I start arguing something I am passionate about (and there are so many) when I find myself slipping into the “because it is wrong” argument (and I do), the face of my husband looms up in my mind’s eye and I immediately stop, back-track and begin seeking a more persuasive and reality-based argument.

Now just imagine what an impact we all could have if, in discussing emotionally charged topics, we could remember to step back, set emotion aside and instead brainstorm a workable solution to the problem. We could be a real force for real change!