I am sure that you all have friends/acquaintances/relatives/loved ones who are, by their very nature, simply contrary. Who know so instinctively that what you are about to say is wrong, they do not even have to wait to listen to it. They will let you know so before you have any opportunity to finish and, even if they are demonstrably off course in guessing where your argument was taking you, will plough on with their denunciation unabashed. They will talk you around so many corners that, in the end, you will have no clear idea yourself of what you intended to say. They will never apologise. Your confusion will be your weakness. Faced with this person you have three possible reactions:
1. Have a stand-up row – seldom recommended as this invariably ends badly. Whatever ensues, you will almost certainly be made to feel like a complete heel. Of course, the letting off of steam may well make you feel better for a short time, but there is always a price to pay: your tormentor will be seen as the victim and you as the bully. Ultimately, shouting matches are never won by the person with the loudest voice.
2. Acquiesce – you will feel pitiful, but you will not suffer the pain and indignity of being proved wrong, even when you know you are not. You will, however, spend several uncomfortable hours full of smug, I-told-you-so glances. Acquiesce – and then leave smartly, dragging any dignity you can muster behind you.
3. Prove it – find incontrovertible affirmation of your statement. Unfortunately, I can pretty much assure you that the average nay-sayer, so confronted with written proof, will either outright deny having contradicted you at all, or will assure you that you are completely mistaken about what you think you said in the first place. ‘You probably thought you said…, but what you actually said was…’ Short of recording every conversation you have, you probably have little chance of rebutting this without sounding like a pantomime villain. Abanazar seldom wins the day – unless he’s in one of those very avant garde numbers where the white horses turn into rats and the pumpkin has scabies. Generally Snow White succeeds by being affable and agreeable – thumbing her nose only when nobody’s looking.
My own father, a master of acquiescence, once became so enraged that he turned to the Encyclopaedia Britannica in order to settle a difference of opinion with my mother. My mum read through the entry he thrust before her with disinterest before simply declaring, ‘I’m sorry John, but it’s wrong.’ My dad’s defeat was total. She did not have, nor need, anything with which to back up her assertion other than total conviction. It was unequivocal; not open to discussion. It would never be mentioned again.
One way or another, whatever you do, you will always wind up feeling petty. You will end up wishing that you had simply accepted the other person’s opinion from the outset, or, better still, that you had never been tempted into voicing your own. Mute nodding is generally the most reliable method of not being seen as antagonistic. If you fear you may be viewed as indifferent, just shrug your shoulders and pretend to be sucking a mint.
As I have said before, it is my conviction that opinions are, by and large, better kept to oneself, and I now realise that principal holds true for facts as well, because, as tempting as it is to view facts as irrefutable, they are not. Proof is of no avail when faced with bald denial, both on a macro and a micro scale. There are those who seek to deny the worst atrocities of man and those who seek to excuse the mildest of injustices by having the blindest of eyes: those who seek to refute the accusation that they were the one who left the toilet seat up; those who will solemnly swear that somebody else must have trodden the dog shit in. We all know that history is written by the winner, but in the past we, at least, had only one version of it to believe. Now we have the internet and, thanks to the powers that be, we are invited to believe only what we are allowed to believe; to accept as truth only what we are told is true – even when it is patently not so. Those caught in a blatant lie no longer feel it even necessary to deny it, let alone apologise for it. Ignoring it is all that is required.
And if you don’t agree with me, well, you are simply wrong. Obviously…
Silence is not only golden, it’s seldom misquoted – Bob Monkhouse