Don't just stick your finger in the leak!
In high school, one of the offered extra-curricular activities was debate team. You could join a group of other boys and girls who liked to present the arguments to a particular topic - some pro and others con to whatever the topic might be. In a short period of time, you were presented with the subject and then you needed to be willing to take to the podium to present your side of the argument. In reality, we don't always "think on our feet" all that quickly in most of the real life situations, nor are we given any real chance to prepare for whatever argument we are faced with. In debate team, they taught you to not spend a great deal of time researching the topic and preparing your "outline" of responses, but you could perhaps write out a series of 5 one word "points" you were going to make in response. For example, if you were asked to stand on the "pro" side of charter schools, you might write 5 one to two word "prompts" to help structure your arguments such as "class size", "publicly funded", "specialized", "advanced curriculum", etc. You would use those "points" to discuss your "view" (pro or con), attempting to sway the listeners to your "side" of the debate. In the end, someone would give you a score - determined by how well you presented the topic and the points you zeroed in on which made your side of the argument all that much more "salient". The point of the entire debate was to "manipulate" the audience to "see things" your way. If you haven't figured it out yet, the point of most arguments is really around what someone isn't seeing "YOUR" way. The one who instigates the argument is often the one who feels their "side" isn't being supported as it should be and they want the other guy to know it!
The start of an argument is like a small leak in a dam. Stop it before a big fight breaks out. (Proverbs 17:14 ERV)
The important thing I didn't want you to miss there is that arguments are really subtle forms (and sometimes not so subtle) of manipulation. We engage in them because we want someone to see things our way - they just don't know it yet, but we are about to unload our "opinion", "view", or "feelings" on them right now. In so doing, we are going to use our "argument" to manipulate the circumstances one way or the other. Most arguments may not be as well prepared as a formal debate, though. We don't get a whole lot of "prep time", nor do we always know the "topic" which will be "on the table" at that particular moment. A debate team knows there are about 50 or so topics which could be discussed, so they have actually become moderately familiar with those topics so they can "argue" either side of the topic if called upon to do so. In real life, we don't get this "prep time" - nor are the topics of an argument really all that "predictable" or "understood". In fact, many an argument is something which is spur of the moment, simply because something isn't going "right", and stems from a "disorganized" thought process rather than a highly organized one!
In real life, the start of an argument is indeed like the small leak in a dam - one drip may not seem like much to an observer, but that little leak signals there are "internal problems" with the dam! What is the purpose of the dam? Isn't it to hold back the waters. Is there supposed to be a leak in the dam? No! In fact, when the first sign of a leak occurs, we can pretty much count on more water finding the way through that small crack and then more water, until we have a full-fledged flood! I am not advocating that we "dam up" our emotions, so I want to set us straight on that right up front. I am advocating we pay attention to the "little stuff" which escapes our lips, comes across in the quickness or speed at which we perform an action for someone, etc. These can be subtle signs of "small leaks" which are bound to bring more of those snippy words or curt actions if the "leak" is left unchecked. When a leak occurs in a dam, the engineers go to work to examine where the leak seems to be occurring. Why? They have to assess if the leak poses a threat to the safety of those who are "downstream" from the dam! The same is true when "argumentative words" begin to escape our lips - those "downstream" are not going to fair well if the entire dam begins to break!
As a kid, we were told this little story of a boy who tried to stop the leak from a levy with his finger. He came across the leak, stuck his finger in it, and this stopped the flow of the water. It wasn't long before he recognized he could not move without the leak coming back again! In essence, he was captive to the leak. He became the stabilizing force which kept the levy from breaking down. Now, if you have ever tried to be the "stabilizing force" who is "stuck" with your "finger in the dam" so to speak, you know just how limiting that position can be! In truth, you are captive to the leak - it has you in its clutches. Arguments have a way of doing this to us - we try to stop them by doing things which we think will "hold them at bay" for a while, but in essence, we cannot hold back the forces of the "raging waters" just behind that dam! Eventually our "small plug" which worked for a while will not hold for the long term. The best way to stop an argument is to stop it right where it starts. To do this, we often have to "look behind" the leak to see what forces are pushing against the place where the leak is occurring. If we will realize nobody "drilled" that hole purposefully, but the forces of life created it because of the stress placed on a weak portion of the relationship, we might just begin to realize how to strengthen the portion which is weak and keep the stress from constantly allowing the leak! Just sayin!