Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'd Like to Buy an Argument - A Lesson in Getting Exactly What You Asked For

One of my very favorite comedy sketches is the Monty Python, "I'd Like to Buy an Argument" sketch.  (Don't get me started on the Dead Parrot sketch, that one is hilarious!)  The reason I love the argument sketch is that very often we get what we ask for, just not what we want. An example from the sketch:

M:  I came here for a good argument.
A:   No you didn't; no, you came here for an argument.
M:  An argument isn't just contradiction.
A:   It can be.
M:  No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A:   No it isn't.
M:  Yes it is! It's not just contradiction.
A:   Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M:  Yes, but that's not just saying 'No it isn't.'
A:   Yes it is!
M:   No it isn't!

The best part about this lovely conversation is that the man IS getting an argument...just not the one he expected. He is arguing about arguing.

How often do you get exactly what you asked for, just not what you wanted?  I think it happens quite a lot.  In my life here are a few examples:
  1. I asked for kids - what I got was 2 ping pong balls bouncing around the house, otherwise known as my children.
  2. I asked for a hobby - what I got was an office packed full of supplies and overflowing with equipment, but no time to enjoy the hobby.
  3. I asked for time to read - what I got was a problem that needed to be researched.
  4. I asked for a clean house - what I got was the opprotunity to do the cleaning myself.
  5. I asked for downtime - what I got was a cold.
So how do we take what we get and turn it into something useful? How do we enjoy the "arguments" in our lives?

I suggest a few items:
  1. Be specific in your requests.  I think our argument man would have preferred an intellectual argument over a contradictory argument.
  2. Specify a goal.  If I wanted a hobby, I should have specified I wanted a hobby I would have time to enjoy. (With fewer items to store would have been nice too!)
  3. Specify intent. I would like to teach my children to clean house so they will have the skills they need when they leave home.
  4. Specify context. I would like to read mindless fiction in my room while I relax...this sure beats research reading at the table while I multi-task.
I really think the reason we don't get what we expect is because our goals are not clear and our ability to self correct is impaired.  You have always heard the phrase, "Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it." I think that happens a lot more than we think.

Once you have what you asked for, but aren't sure you want, what do you do? You can:
  1. Make the best out of it.
  2. Complain about it.
  3. Change your request. (Although it may be too late.)
  4. Learn something from it.
  5. Move to Siberia and hope it doesn't follow you. (Just bring a coat.)
While I don't recommend the moving to Siberia option, (I mean really, that country would have a population explosion if everyone running away from desires gone awry landed there.) I do think sometimes we need to step back, pull ourselves out of the situation and take a good look at it. In all honesty,
  1. I love my kids, ping pong balls or not. 
  2. My hobby suits me, and gives me something to look forward to.
  3. Research reading broadens my knowledge base and increases my awareness of issues surrounding me. 
  4. A clean house is over rated.
  5. I can have downtime when I'm 90.
So take a look at the things you asked for, the things you actually got, and the differences between the two. My guess is that you got more than you just never thought to ask.

"The Argument" From "Monty Python's Previous Record" and "Monty Python's Instant Record Collection"

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