Communication issues: Rules for a healthy argument

      (This article was published in the Young World, Dawn Inpage Magazine for children, but somehow I feel that grownups like me need this lesson more than children do. Making an argument an ego matter, we are often rude and try to belittle people who do not agree with us!)

          According to George Bernard Shaw “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it”.

Arshad and Hammad are not on speaking terms for the last two weeks. Reason? They had entered into an argument on which player in the Pakistani Cricket team was responsible for the defeat in the semi- final of ICC World Cup. Each one was defending his favourite player and slinging allegations on the other’s favourite. Although they were close friends, the argument finally became an ego matter and resulted in a quarrel.

An argument can be defined as a difference of opinion among two persons (or groups), when each one tries his best to prove that his views are right and those of his opponent’s are wrong. Too often we see a healthy argument change into a heated debate, or worse still into an ugly fight. We can get into an argument on petty issues with friends, siblings, parents and sometimes even with complete strangers.

Although we do not like to lose once we have entered into an argument, we should realize and understand that every individual has a different opinion depending upon his/her age, education, social and moral values and family and religious background.  The ultimate goal of an argument should never be a contest to see who is the winner , it should be a means to let other see your point of view and trying to make them agree with you (or convince you if you are wrong). To make an argument a means for improved knowledge and a door to better communication there are some rules which should be followed strictly.

Questions like ‘Why?’ ‘How’ and ‘When’ not only make an argument informative, they may also correct some myths and wrong believes of your opponent. But before making any statement, be dead sure that you know your facts properly. Making a claim that is false would make your case weak and you will end up losing even though most of your views were correct.

Talk politely but firmly. To convince others during an argument and make them share your view, stress your points with full conviction. You should show that you are confident about what you are talking about. Keep your mind and voice under control and talk with dignity. Raising your voice over your opponents, insulting him, becoming aggressive and/or flying into a rage, only proves that you have a weak stand and are running out of rationale facts. A calm attitude and a normal voice level will go a far way to strengthen your argument.

          While discussing controversial issues it is better to let your opponent speak first. Listen carefully and let him state his views clearly. Never interrupt him before he is finished. In this way you will have a better understanding of the other person’s views and why his opinion differs from yours. When your turn comes to speak, you will be able to express yourself in a more convincing manner and have a better chance to get your point through.

          Never under estimate your opponent. Don’t think he/she is silly, obstinate or not as intelligent (or educated) as you are. Many arguments are won by showing respect to the views of the person with whom you have a difference of opinion. Never make it into an ego matter. The ultimate aim of an argument should never be belittling the person you have a difference of opinion with; it should always be a step towards better perception of a controversial issue. You must realize that it is not necessary that you are always the one who is right, so keep your mind open during an argument.

          Never, I repeat NEVER argue just for the sake of an argument. Some people just love to disagree with the people around them. They have the unpleasant habit of entering into arguments on every topic and with everyone they come across. They will differ with you in all matters and trap you into joining them in the controversy. But beware of these people! Don’t accept every invitation to enter into a discussion. First, search your mind to find out if you have any idea about the topic of disagreement; whether you can talk about it or not. At times it is better to keep quiet and listen, instead of uttering something foolish which you will regret later. An anonymous saying says, “People who know the least always argue the most”. Avoid being one of those people.

          The ultimate goal of an argument should never be a proof of who is cleverer or has better knowledge. It should not be considered as a contest in which winning is very important. Realizing the fact that each one of us has a right to his/her own opinion, we should let it be a means of communicating which each other and sharing our views and thoughts. Always remember that people are more important than views. You may lose a good friend by being obstinate or unrealistic.  After an argument, even if you have won it, you may be the real loser if in the end you find that you have lost a close friend!

 

Communication: For your own good

Children often complain about their parents asking them too many questions. And of course, most questioning words begin with W, such as where, why, what, who, which, etc., — making W the most hated English alphabet by kids and the most controversial as well!

Where are you going? When will you be back? Who is going with you? Why are you watching television at this late hour? Why didn’t you clear up the mess in your room? Whom do you keep text messaging to? Why haven’t you started to do your homework yet? When will you start preparing for your exams? These are only some of the most common questions asked by the concerned parents. And the list goes on and on!

Youngsters usually feel offended by these queries and the replies are usually like, “You do not trust me”, “I am not a child any more”, “Why can’t I have more freedom”, “You are nagging all the time” or in worse cases, “For Heaven’s sake! Leave me alone!” or worse still “It’s my life, yaar!”

As life has promoted me from a mother to a grandmother, I often reflect at this conflict between parents and children. When I decided to talk to some of them, I got a lot of responses, but the most interesting and common feature was that all of those who gave their input wanted to remain anonymous! I take it as a positive sign and as a respect for each other’s feelings. Here I would like to share a few examples of what the two parties had to say.

A teenager who is a student of O Levels in a reputed school says, “After just a few minutes of talking on my cell phone or when I exchange a few messages with my friends, my mom starts casting questioning glances at me. And then she starts her queries, ‘Who are you on the phone with?’ and after a few minutes, ‘Why are you talking with him/her for so long’. Or, ‘Why don’t your friends call on the landline’.”

She clarifies, “I use my cell more as I like to remain mobile while I am talking to a friend. Often we are discussing a project/assignment or helping each other in problems pertaining to our studies and I need to consult a book or notes while talking. Using the landline means remaining seated on the lounge chair with distractions, as my younger siblings make a lot of noise and often the television is on!”

Her mother retaliates, “I wonder why she gets so irritated when I demand to know who she is talking to on her cell! After all the landline is more economical than the cell, and I also feel more comfortable when she is within my earshot when she is talking to friends. As a mother, I feel it is my duty to keep an eye on her activities. She is so naïve; I fear that wrong friends would harm her and also adversely affect her studies.”

Another teenager shares his woes, “The minute my mom sees me in my jeans and joggers, she showers me with questions ‘Where are you going?’, ‘When will you be back?’ and ‘Who else is going with you?’. And the query I resent the most is, ‘Why don’t you respond when I call on your cell’.

“For Heaven’s sake! I am not a child any more. I want to venture out into the world with a bit of independence. She must understand that the time to cut off the apron strings has past! My friends laugh at me when she calls after every half an hour. Her never-ending questions get on my nerves!”

His mother defends herself, “I cannot understand why he gets mad when I ask him where he is going and by what time he would be back! I feel it is my right to know about his whereabouts and the company he keeps. With the uncertainty prevailing in the city, I fear for his security and get nervous when he does not respond to my calls.”

A mother of four shares her irritation, “Why do they create so much mess when they know that I cannot stand a messy room?

When I demand to know when they will clear up the clutter, they just shrug and move away, or worse still, accuse me of nagging!”

Her 12-year-old daughter says, “Mama is a cleanliness freak! How can she expect me to study with my books packed in my bag or neatly lined up on the bookshelf?”

Her younger brother says, “I need some place to play with my toys and video games and there is bound to be some amount of untidiness when I am playing.”

Another 16-year-old says, “If I ask permission from my dad to go out for lunch with friends (dinners being strictly not allowed!), or just for window shopping to a mall, he will ask every time, ‘What is the purpose of such outings? Instead of concentrating more on your studies, why do you waste so much time and money on such useless activities’.”

His father says, “I spend so much on my children’s studies. Often I and their mother cut down on our own needs in our budget which we consider less essential. We expect our kids to be more responsible and dedicated to their studies and not waste their time hanging out with friends.”

Friends, speaking back to parents and being irritated by their never ending questions may be something you may regret later on in life. Their questions are only their way of showing how much they care for you and how concerned they are for your wellbeing! If you think with a cool head, you will realise that all these Ws are for your own good and out of love and concern for your wellbeing. So, instead of feeling that their questions are an intrusion into your privacy, or just plain nagging, try to understand what they want to convey!

Next time, when you are barged with these Ws, instead of getting annoyed, sit down with them and discuss your feelings.

Communication gaps always lead to misunderstandings!

By talking with your parents about what are their expectations from you, you can also explain your side of the picture and let them know why you react negatively! Our parents are much wiser and experienced than us! Their questions are their way to guide us on what should be our priorities in life and what things we should avoid.

In the end, I would like to quote Losivale Vaafuti, “Your parents will always lecture you, hit you, ground you, make you do chores, embarrass you, etc., but just know that they will always push you harder and harder to make you do the right thing, not to make you seem that you are a disappointment to them, but to prepare you for the reality. In other words, being successful in the future!”

 

Hypocrisy: The pretending game….A slightly edited version of an article published in The Review (Dawn In-Paper Magazine).

I was reading a book around mid-afternoon, a daily ritual I perform before my afternoon siesta, when my seven-year-old grandson came and announced, “Nafisa Auntie’s call for you Amma”. Oh no, I groaned inwardly! Always at draggers drawn with her daughter-in-law, my friend often calls with her (new) list of complaints. And I am forced to listen to her rants, although I am least interested, plus I do not have such a bad opinion of the poor girl! But I do not have the courage to give my views to my old friend, as I do not want to annoy her.

 

The book was getting interesting and I was in no mood to be disturbed, so I told the little one to tell Nafisa that Dadi is sleeping. “But you are not sleeping Amma!” Looking a bit confused, he reminded me innocently, “You always tell me that I should never tell a lie”. “Run away and do as you are told. I don’t need your sermon,” I scolded him. He left the room, but not before giving me a reproachful look. I returned to my book without having the slightest idea that I had given my little grandson his first lesson in hypocrisy.

 

How many of us go through similar experiences in our day-to-day life? Majority of us are hypocrites as we love to preach what we ourselves seldom practice, conveniently molding our rules and principles to suit our moods and whims (and sometimes convenience).

A hypocrite can be defined as a person who pretends to have virtues, principles or moral believes which he does not actually possess. He is also a person who feigns desirable attitude when in company, although this behaviour does not conform with his true personality. According to Bertrand Russell, “We have two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practice and another which we practice but seldom preach.”

So, what is the real cause of hypocrisy? For me, the most important reason is the fear of disapproval of the people with whom I interact in my day-to-day life. I am scared that my true feelings may annoy or hurt them, or have a lower opinion of me than what I would like them to have! So, I take refuge under the cloak of hypocrisy. Also, as I am so obsessed with myself, I usually do not think that something is wrong if a nice person like me is doing it. At times, I lie so sincerely, I cease to perceive my deception, forgetting that I am not deceiving people but only myself. Although, according to Socrates, “The greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be”.

Let me explain. I go to the wedding of an acquaintance’s daughter and after greeting and congratulating my hostess I exclaim, “Wow! Salma, you look so beautiful in this maroon dress. One would never guess you are the bride’s mother”. Salma blushes as she guides me to a seat and moves away. “What a terrible colour to wear, looks so loud for her age!” I whisper to a common friend sitting next to me. “But you were complimenting her for her dress just a moment ago.” She looks surprised. “Do you know she is the principal of my grand- daughter’s school? I can’t take the risk of annoying her,” I reply with a smug smile.

Umar Adil, a young businessman, believes, “Hypocrisy has become a second nature to most of us. In today’s world what matters to us the most is what other people think of us. Even our opinion about ourselves is based on those views. I am a real man living in a real world and trying to prove myself. Yes, naturally I am a hypocrite. What I say and preach is rarely based on what I practice and most of the time I do this to create a cool impression. The remedy to this issue is accomplishment. Once you prove yourself a successful person, you find your actions speak better than the hollow sermons you never tire of giving. I know I can get over my hypocrisy (i.e. if I want to do so), but the time is not ripe for it yet!”

Freelance writer and journalist Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam gives her views, “Hypocrisy, to me, is a form of lying. Unfortunately, we all end up indulging in it as there are contradictions in our personalities, our lifestyles and our beliefs. We often portray ourselves to be something that we are not. I think true liberation comes with being one’s true self under all circumstances. People who don’t accept us the way we are don’t deserve to be in our life.” When asked if she is a hypocrite, she replies with a smile, “This question actually teaches me to be less judgmental. Commenting on others’ actions should be avoided, as at times we may end up doing the same thing in similar circumstances”.

I know many people who can be called hypocrites, but I have never been able to muster enough courage to tell them so, as I myself am a hypocrite. There are times when I really feel ashamed of my hypocrisy and wonder what measures I can take to minimize it. Maybe this can be achieved by trying my best to always do and say what I believe to be right and not changing my values to justify my actions. On other self-righteous moments, I overcome my guilt by reminding myself that I am an honest hypocrite and unlike most people, have the courage to admit my weaknesses.

Society: Free for all

It is for you, for free! You receive it all the time, unsought, and more often than not, unwelcome and irritating! Anytime and anywhere, you just have to mention a problem! Advice will pour in from all quarters.

We love to meddle in everyone’s affairs, whether asked for or not, we think it is our birthright to dole out our valuable advice, even in areas we have little knowledge ourselves. Be it major issues like an illness, problems at your workplace, parenting, selecting the perfect spouse for your children, differences with the in-laws, or minor day to day issues like where to shop for what, which colour or style you should choose for your dresses, how to cook a perfect qorma or nihari or maid problems, we have something or other under our cap which we gleefully dole out to friends, family and even distant acquaintances.

Sometimes we casually mention a problem just to feel better after a bit of unwinding, but we are taken aback by the flurry of advice we are bombarded with. Minding other people’s business is the most popular hobby of the majority of people in our part of the world. Very few wait to give advice only when it is sought. People just love to flood you with their opinion about what course of action you should take in a given situation.

Sumeira, a young home maker says, “In the early years of my marriage I had problems with my in-laws. My husband was too attached to his parents to understand my point of view. I was young and inexperienced and at times, in frustration, I discussed my woes with my friends because I just needed a sympathetic ear and someone who could sympathise with me.

But now I have learnt to keep my troubles to myself, as the unwanted counsel I got was not only impractical but even sometimes got me into trouble. Over the years I have developed strong bonds with my in-laws. I thank God that I did not pay heed to the advices of my well meaning but immature friends”.

Sheema, a young mother, says, “Experience taught me never to talk about baby problems in company. When my first child was born, I just had to mention one and I was flooded with unlimited suggestions on how to feed, burp, bathe or even dress the baby. If the child was sick, senior mothers were quick to recommend the medicines they used for similar symptoms.

Elderly women offered home-made remedies and were actually annoyed if I did not follow their valuable advice”.

Rehan says sarcastically, “I wonder why people have to meddle in the personal affairs of everyone they can reach out to. If I am sick and under the treatment of an allopath, acquaintances will tell me to go to a hakim or a homeopath! The choice of school I made for my children was always wrong for some people who were quick to suggest better options. When my daughter chose red for her wedding dress, her friends insisted that that it was outdated and white was the ‘in’ colour for the bride those days. I mentioned to my friends that I was having problems with my boss? ‘Resign immediately’ was their prompt advice! ‘After all your self esteem is more important than a job!’ If, in the heat of the moment, I had been foolish enough to follow their advice I am sure I would have found myself jobless for the next six months”.

Anisa Zia, a friend, sums up the issue in a practical manner, “Many times I have been a victim of unsolicited advice and ended up listening intently only out of respect. Actually I think the purpose in most cases is not altogether bad because the eagerness to help us resolve our problem may be the only reason why people come up with unasked for advice. But making it a ritual is what one must abstain from. I think the ability to judge whether to give in or control the urge to add our two bits comes from practicing our listening skills rather than exercising our speaking ones”.

Unwanted advice may be in good faith but before giving out our qeemti mashwara, we should understand the fact that circumstances vary from case to case and decisions have to be made according to them. Thus no hard and fast rules can be set which everyone can blindly follow! So unless someone seeks our advice, and lets us know the pros and cons and the consequences of different choices or decisions, we should not give in to the temptation of giving it away!

LIFE! THE HATE MONGERS (http://archives.dawn.com/archives/69181#comment-)

The boss has a crush on his young, beautiful but married secretary. The girl is tactful enough to keep his advances at bay and still retain her job. Her colleagues have planned a surprise birthday party for the boss which the (unsuspecting) girl discusses at home with her mother-in-law.

On the fateful day the boss is astonished but delighted to receive a card and a big bouquet from her and calls to say thanks. The girl is devastated because she has sent neither of them, but her husband (who is sure to be at home at that particular time) does not believe her. So, a big row follows. The mother-in-law, who is listening to them argue bitterly, stays neutral but the smug look on her face has a lot to say!

The daughter-in-law is not to be deterred and plans a quick revenge. The next day she seems to misplace her wedding ring (a precious diamond one, of course). She hunts for it everywhere and looks visibly agitated. The (seemingly) loving mama-in-law is all sympathy for her as she helps in the search. In the evening the daughter-in-law opens her mother-in-law`s cupboard to get something for her and lets out a scream (of delight). The ring is right there, shining brightly and she turns towards the older lady in disbelief, her accusing look saying more than words.

One has only to put two and two together to guess how the ring reached there.

These are not true stories but scenes from one of the endless (and senseless) soap operas which the ever mushrooming television channels dish out day in and day out! We see people of every age addicted to them. They gleefully watch episode after episode of the plays even though the story moves at a snail`s pace. Why are people attracted to these soap operas? Some people say that these plays are an escape from the harsh realities of life while others argue that this is the best way they can spend their leisure hours, but very few of us realise what harm they are doing to our family values!

The family is the core of the human existence and its members are supposed to provide each other with love and security, to share each other`s happiness, problems and sorrows, and to tend to each other`s needs. The majority of the soap operas have a negative impact on these values. Most of the plays are set against an urban backdrop, about families belonging to the high social strata, where the ladies have nothing better to do than to don expensive dresses, heavy (and unnatural) makeup and jewellery and relax in luxuriously furnished lounges. They have to do no house work, no cooking, no washing or ironing and no looking after their kids. All they seem to do is to plot, scheme and hatch conspiracies against other family members! Back biting seems to be the order of the day as these ladies manipulate simple day-to-day events to their selfish motives. In the above mentioned examples, both the ladies go miles to demean other down, even though their hatred for each other is beautifully sugar coated.

The most important target in most soaps are the in-laws. Marriage is not only a bond between two individuals it is a new set of relationships between two families. This relationship is supposed to be based on mutual love, understanding and respect for each other, with every one realising the others` rights and working together towards a peaceful and loving family. The love for in-laws is not in the blood, as that for biological bonds; it has to be nurtured step by step, day by day after making many compromises and sacrifices.

On the contrary, most TV plays are teaching women to hate instead of love, to doubt instead of to trust, to avenge instead of to forgive and to humiliate instead of to respect. Women are portrayed not as home makers but as home breakers, all out to destroy the peace, tranquillity and happiness from a happy family life.

In the normal life, do we find women as cunning and ill meaning to each other as depicted in these plays? I don`t claim that relationship with in-laws is all bliss but the question is, “Is anyone perfect in this world?” We have to be perfect ourselves before expecting or demanding perfection from others.

The viewers of soap operas, especially young girls, are so taken by the charm and glamour of the characters that they lose the capability of distinguishing facts from fiction and have no idea what subtle change is undergoing in their approach towards family life. These hate-mongers on the idiot box are teaching us to hate, distrust and humiliate the people who should be the most near and dear to our hearts. Shouldn`t all of us stand up against this slow poison to the roots of our being before it is too late?