Is it in our nature to be dualistic and argue?

June 7th, 2010 by Steve

Today, politics seems to be the talk of the town. There are people who love or hate the course the country is taking. I often hear the arguments back and forth from each side.  It always struck me as funny that people assume you like the opposite side of what they’re arguing against. For example, I was listening to a conversation between two friends where one was unhappy with the current administration’s policies. The person he was arguing with assumed he therefore loved the previous administration. I started wondering why do we always break up into opposing sides? We tend to divide into ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps but rarely into any degrees of separation.

Very few of us seem to be able to truly stay neutral. We divide into Democrat or Republican, Religious or Atheist, Fit or Fat, Mets or Yankees. Why do we always seem to pick one side and fight the other? Why can’t we like something from this camp and something else from that camp, too? Why can’t there be 5 choices or 15? The answer, I think, is that whenever something powerful comes around people line up with it or against it. It is nature’s law of balance.

Can this dualistic view be our natural tendency and, if so, is it our job to grow past it?

When a powerful leader comes along does nature seek a balance to even out the person’s influence? Does the fact that he or she influences so many and brings such change cause the strong opposition that seems to face him or her? Our current President, Barack Obama, is changing our country in significant ways. President Bush before him changed our country in different ways. Both are powerful men and have changed the course of this country. Each had diehard supporters and outspoken opponents.

The opposition usually comes from a place of disagreement with the path the leader is taking. Opponents of Obama do not like the Healthcare bill or corporate bailouts. Opponents of Bush did not like the “War on Terror” or his take on Medicare. When I listen to their arguments, it seems in the end that people either like or don’t like the person rather than the idea.

The hot topic these days is healthcare and I hear conservatives who argue about the entitlement programs, while many of these same people receive Medicare and Social Security. So is it really entitlement they dislike or is it the man himself? On the other side of the fence, liberals would argue against the war in Iraq but frequently are the same folks who urged President Clinton to get more involved in Bosnia and help those people. So did they really dislike the war or the man?

I see the same pattern with any influential person or idea; we are drawn to or away from it. Either we love the rich or we think they are privileged and were given everything. We feel for the poor or we think they are lazy people who should work harder. You rarely find someone who is just in the middle and has no opinion. I know many people who bite their tongues but whose real feelings come out in private conversations.

We are compelled to be dualistic, to be with or against. I don’t know if it is a natural tendency or a socialized one but it seems to be there in spades. When I started changing my life years ago, so many people told me I was crazy to eat the way I did, to take martial arts and to read about Spirituality. They said it was too extreme to work so hard.  They believed it was not healthy or normal. It struck me as odd that they had such strong opinions about something that had nothing to do with their day to day life.

Why did it matter to them if I trained and meditated? What difference did it make to them? The same goes for arguments about religion, sex or politics. People praise their beliefs and condemn the rest. Once I became aware of this natural tendency in me, I found myself thinking before I spoke and lost the passion for arguing.

I started to think:

Why am I arguing this point? Will I really change any minds and do I really want to? Am I being draw in to this dualistic tug of war? Why does hearing someone talk against something I believe in require me to “fight” for my side? Do I really have or want a side?

The more I thought about these issues, the more I realized that I rarely would change someone else’s mind because their beliefs were as ingrained as mine are. I did not gain any insight into the topic because I would not listen objectively. Lastly, I would become frustrated and angry wondering why people did not see my point of view which, according to me, was obviously the right one.

Nothing good would come out of my dualistic nature so I decided I had to let it go. It was a difficult road. Knowing that I wouldn’t change my mind or others’ minds, I started to bite my tongue. I was not always successful, but I kept in mind that I was doing this for my growth. Since my logic told me I could not really win an argument, I realized it was an emotional crutch. Furthermore, the arguments would foster negative emotions like frustration, anger and resentment. The negative feelings would beget more negative feelings and negative outcomes in my reality so I had to turn the negative to positive. As arguments kept coming up, I tried to remember that I want positive outcomes. Avoiding the argument would, in the end, bring to me the type of positive reality I wanted. The more I forced myself to avoid jumping into the argument, the easier it got.

After some time I noticed that I was starting to see the middle ground. I listened to people arguing and heard decent points on both sides. I was starting to see shades of grey. It was fascinating. I had found my way out of my dualistic nature. I had found a way to listen objectively and hear both sides.

Next time you want to jump into that argument, take an inventory and figure out why you want to and what you will gain from it.  I wager the answers are because it is in your nature to argue and in the end you will get nothing out if it. So why bother? Instead, let it go. You will struggle at first, but after a few months of practice you will start to enjoy listening to others who have not mastered their dualistic nature.  You may even find some peace in listening to an opinion that differs from your own without the intention of arguing or countering it with another.

When faced with that argument remember: “Listen In Peace While They Speak Their Piece.”


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