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My late father provided me with a lot of advice over the years. Some of it good, some a little spurious. To my regret I didn’t follow some of the former as assiduously as I perhaps should have.

One in particular comes to mind. “Never argue with someone with whom you cannot agree on the definitions of your terms.” alternatively, “Before you get into a dispute, figure out of there’s actually one worth having.”

My father observed that at least half the time that two people argued about something, it was about something that they were already in agreement about to begin with. Conversely, some other disagreements could seemingly never be resolved.

The problem, he said, was with the basic definitions.

Language is a bit of a slippery thing. It’s a very rare word in the English language that only has one meaning, and you generally only find those in technical specialties. Quite aside from their defined and documented dictionary meanings, there are slang interpretations, personal interpretations, and just plain misunderstandings of meaning.

Two people whose opinion on a matter may be in strong alignment may have quite the argument, because each one understands key terms being used to mean slightly different things. You’ve probably been in that situation yourself hundreds of times.

Likewise you may have been in a situation where you found you were held to an agreement that you would not normally have given, because of a difference in the use of language.

Common terms are important.

Compromise and agreement on common terms are key here. At times you will need to be able to stop each-other and check for meaning, if you suspect a term is being used or understood in some different way. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work if one of you won’t compromise on use and meaning. Like a tango, you’ve both got to be willing to work together for a resolution.

If the other party won’t do that, my father used to say, “just walk away. You can bend over backwards for them, but ultimately, you’re wasting your time and theirs without common grounds for discussion. It’s like wrestling with a pig. You both get dirty, and only the pig is having a good time.”

Categories: Maundering, Opinion.

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