DR. CUMMINGS: Why argue about it?

March 23, 2014 

Congressmen do nothing but argue -- back and forth across the aisle -- on radio, TV and in today’s newspaper. It’s no wonder their approval ratings are in the toilet. That’s exactly where they should be. We send these men and women to Washington, D.C., to make laws to protect us, not to haggle and hassle and harangue. They sit around and argue, and what do we get? We get an illegal alien disaster, an empty Canadian pipeline, a devastating unemployment problem and a broken health care system.

But they’re not the only ones who argue. We do it, too, and we get similar results. We argue with our boss about fairness, and we get nowhere. We argue with our spouse about money, and our cash flow never improves. We argue with our teenagers about drinking, and we still find beer cans in the trash.

Why doesn’t arguing work? We don’t even get a win-lose. We get a lose-lose. Everybody seems to lose when tempers flare and voices rise and logic goes out the window. Arguing makes a bad situation worse. But what choice do we have? What can we do when we’re right and she’s wrong, but she just won’t admit it? There is one more alternative.

It’s called “go to the balcony.” Picture the stage at the Grand Opera House. Picture the husband and wife standing on the stage shouting at each other: “You were flirting with my best girlfriend!” “I was not.” “You have lipstick on your collar!” “No! That’s blood from a shaving cut.” Suddenly, the director comes out from backstage and takes the two of them up the stairs to the balcony and sits them down facing the stage.

The director says: “The discussion on that stage is disagreement. Up here it’s all agreement, so I want each of you to say what it is you both agree on.” The two start with obvious things like the love they each have for their children, the desire they have to make their marriage work and the fact that each one is human and makes mistakes. They continue listing things that both can say “yes” to, avoiding all the “no” issues.

After the director hears both of them laugh, he brings them back down to the stage to handle the issue at hand. All the facts are faced, sincere apologies are accepted and a plan of action is agreed upon.

Does this always work? Of course not. But neither does an argument. At least, the balcony gives you a chance. Drs. Roger Fisher and William Uri wrote a best-seller on this technique and called it “Getting to Yes” along with a sequel called: “Getting Past No.” If we can’t work toward “yes,” we will always end up with “no.”

Isn’t this what compromise is all about? Isn’t this what politicians are supposed to learn and practice? We voted for liberals who need to watch out for our weak and our poor. And we voted for conservatives who need to keep government spending at a minimum. So what happens? We’re $17 trillion in debt, and we have more than 10 million poor people looking for work. What’s wrong with this picture?

I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not easy for our congressmen, and it’s not easy for us. Changing an argument into compromise takes chutzpah, humility and humor. And that’s a lot when we’re angry. The famous Irish movie director John Moore put it well, I think, when he said: “The real test in golf and in life is not keeping out of the rough, but in getting out after we are in.”

For Dr.C.’s Video on Arguing, click on: www.youtu.be/5hnw-WR_uWY.

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