Come Together

Everyone on earth has had an argument with another person. During the argument, when emotions are high, it’s often really hard to recognize the other person as human. All kinds of bad words and names come to mind. Maybe not everyone feels this way during arguments, but I know that I have.

To ameliorate the impact of arguments, I came up with an idea of agreements, which I think I first encountered talking with my mom, when we were talking about a book called The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. His four agreements are these:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally

3. Don’t Make Assumptions

4. Always Do Your Best

Keeping all of these agreements all the time seems impossible. At least I haven’t been able to keep them. I think that holding oneself to an unrealistic standard can create friction within. So to simplify these few agreements, and make them more realistic for myself, I have developed just two of my own in dealing with conflict —

  1. Do not argue in bad faith. Argue with civility. This means: do not insult or personally attack someone, or try to prove that they are inherently bad. Argue the issue at hand, not the goodness or badness of the person. An important phrase here is ad hominem, “to the person”, which in fancy terms is a fallacy (an unsound argument). It means mistaking the act for the person. Often this kind of argument occurs over beliefs like religion or politics.

  2. Try my best to help the relationship survive. This does not mean the relationship has to stay the same, but that civility, kindness, care, and regard for one another are maintained, even if the parties go their separate ways. Sometimes a relationship can fully survive, and continue on as it was, and sometimes it changes. This depends on the depth of the relationship, and the seriousness of the argument.

I read an article yesterday morning, after I wrote about cookies, about how the UK asked for volunteers to help vulnerable Britons, and more than 750,000 people signed up.

A few weeks ago, Kate Sellars was organizing a James Bond getaway for her wealthy clients, in which they would have been flown by helicopter to Monte Carlo for a preview of the latest Bond movie, a glittering party with cast members and, for each guest, an Aston Martin gassed up and ready to drive.

Last week, Ms. Sellars lugged two bags of groceries from her local supermarket to the front step of Garth D’lima, a 73-year-old retired accountant who is marooned inside his house as the coronavirus sweeps London.

“It’s just heartbreaking not to be able to help him carry his groceries up the stairs,” she said, as she waved at Mr. D’lima from his front gate. “We can’t go into people’s houses because that would put them at risk.”

This is remarkable journalism, and incredibly important in these times. The first paragraph paints a picture of a lavish, out-of-touch person. The second nukes that opinion. The third brought me to tears.

It also proves the uselessness of ad hominem arguments, as it shows people are not defined by one action.

“During the Brexit debate, people used to say what we really need is a common enemy — and now we’ve got it,” said David Goodhart, a writer whose last book, “The Road to Somewhere,” explored the divide in British society between the rooted and the rootless. “Except this is an invisible enemy.”

Yes, we are all people. Yes, we all have our idiosyncrasies. But the sharing of our common humanity is our most powerful asset.

“When I speak of ‘basic human feeling’, I refer to the capacity we all have to empathize with one another. This is what enables us to enter into the pain of others and, to some extent, participate in the pain of others.

Our innate capacity for empathy is the source of that most precious of all human qualities, which in Tibetan we call nyingjé. The term nyingjé has a wealth of meaning that includes: love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit, and warm-heartedness. It does not imply pity; on the contrary, nyingjé denotes a feeling of connection with others. Also, it belongs to that category of emotions which have a more developed cognitive component. So we can understand nyingjé as a combination of empathy and reason.

We can think of empathy as the characteristic of a very warm-hearted or well-meaning person; reason as that of someone who is very practical (and truly intelligent and wise). When the two are put together, the combination is highly effective.”

— HHDL, Ethics for the New Millenium

Reading about The UK’s strategy of recruiting willing volunteers (they put out a call for 250,000 and got the aforementioned 750,000 applicants) is exactly the story we all need to hear right now. I think it is easy to want to slay dragons. It’s harder to think that helping your 70 your old neighbor matters. But you know who it helps? Your 70 year old neighbor. And I think it helps you, too.