I come from a family of arguers. Right now, my mother is sitting somewhere half a world away and muttering to the screen, “They’re not arguments, Lily. They’re debates.” This is the sort of distinction that was made in the household I grew up in.
While other kids were raised on a diet of fish fingers and mushy peas, we were raised to speak our minds (although there were plenty of fish fingers and mushy peas, too). I got used to dinner-table discussions starting with an innocuous, “How was your day?” and ending with a passionate disagreement over the Iraq War. In our family, between 2003 and 2009, our arguments were always about the Iraq War.
While I would rather set my eyebrows on fire than have a personal confrontation, I could argue about politics or celebrity gossip for hours. But, increasingly, I feel like no one wants to argue with me – about anything. Things are too tense, too explosive, too controversial. After the Brexit vote, there were slews of articles about families that could never talk to each other again, there were family break-ups and friendships break-ups and regular break-up break-ups and, after months of shouting at each other in pubs and living rooms across the country, everyone just… stopped.
Don’t get me wrong, as a woman who has to read the tabloids for work every morning, I too am becoming used to biting my tongue, to clenching my jaw, to letting things wash over me. It’s too exhausting to get het up over every injustice in the world, so I have learnt, for the most part, to pick my battles. I have got used to letting my anger build up inside of me, growing and growing with every breaking news alert or man on the Tube who won’t take off his backpack.
In those first few moments of an argument, I always feel something unfurl in my chest, as if, by letting some of my anger out, I’m clearing some space so that I can actually breathe again
But sometimes I don’t want to bite my tongue or swallow my outrage. I want to argue. I want to seethe. I want to disagree. And maybe that’s OK, too.
After all, it feels good to argue, to work yourself up, to fight for the things you truly believe in. In those first few moments of an argument, I always feel something unfurl in my chest, as if, by letting some of my anger out, I’m clearing some space so that I can actually breathe again. I don’t mean the type of arguing that is just two people shouting their opinions over the top of each other; I don’t mean the type of arguing that we’ve become used to seeing on television and Twitter. I mean the type of arguing David Brooks talks about in this piece in The New York Times – the type of arguing where you actually engage with the person you’re talking with, where you make an effort to understand what they’re saying, to think of it from their point of view and you adjust your argument accordingly.
This Christmas, I’ll head back to the house where I was raised. My brothers will arrive with their wives and children in tow and we will argue about Trump, Brexit, the Muslim ban and the new bus route in my hometown that my dad is very adamantly (and vocally) against. These are arguments we’ve had before, but I can feel new ones brewing, too. There will be arguments about the morality of naming men as sexual abusers on social media, there will be arguments about whether or not these men should lose their jobs, arguments about how the court of public opinion isn’t the same thing as a court of law.
In short, there will be arguments that make my blood boil and my skin crawl. There will be arguments that leave me shouting at my dad, “DO YOU JUST NOT CARE ABOUT WOMEN?” And I, for one, can’t wait.