Advice comes when we least expect it, and the above title is some of the best unintentional advice I’ve ever received.

Learning to avoid trivial arguments came from one of my undergraduate professors when we were working on a community project after I had graduated from his program. While together, my boss, who worked for the local community organization, was demanding. Not remembering what prompted his volunteer skunk advice, I remember him stating: “Don’t get into a smelling contest with a skunk; you’ll always lose!”

Over the years, his quote has stuck with me and let me avoid many needless arguments.

Today, we are a society that loves to argue. In the 90s, we had daytime talk shows, the most famous is Jerry Springer, where our society loved watching the social drama of others. Now, we get to participate through social media.

Quickly looking at social media for any length of time, you will see so many people arguing past another. Sadly, the bulk of social media discussions have evolved from the happy sharing of our lives with others to the need to pontificate and correct another. Like daytime talk shows, we might not even participate, but if we are honest, we logon to social media to see the carnage between strangers.

Also, admittedly, it’s tempting not to want to get involved; yet we shouldn’t! Why? Because it’s like arguing with a skunk; you’ll get the smell on you! Now some might ask, “Then who should we have a discussion with on social media? Simple, those who you know well enough to have a conversation with them in person or over the phone.

Like it or not, people have always been most convincing when we discuss and debate things with people we know. They trust us more; they know our record and integrity. Since we care about another, it makes it tougher to argue past another to primarily maintain our biased positions without considering others.

Sadly, skunk arguments also occur with those we know too. Recently, I posted a celebratory Instagram/Facebook story about a speech I was writing. Not many people “liked” it, and that was fine. One person did write a response, though, and did so in a very self-righteous way. His post was technically correct when only considering the written summary of me celebrating the writing process. Still, his comment overall was wrong because he missed the fact that I was grateful to enjoy the writing process. Not all people enjoy the writing process, even I do not, and on that occasion, I was ecstatic.

Receiving his comment, I was not pleased. Couple my displeasure with what I remember of him from college, and I wanted to address the issue badly with him. Fortunately, even after sleeping on his comment, I did not. Why?

First, if he is like what I remember from college, he is a skunk who loved to argue and make everyone figuratively smell bad through his interactions. He liked to pretend that he was smarter than reality. Second, he might not be the skunk anymore that he was in college. It’s then wrong for me to assume my bias on him, thus not making the argument worthwhile.

Furthermore, just because you had a relationship with someone in the past, and are in connection with them through social media, it doesn’t mean who they were in the past is who they are today. The last sentence is correct both towards the positive improves of people and the negative declines of others.

In other words, we need to avoid being skunks by having tough conversations with another. Strangers are not going to hear our words because they don’t know us to trust us. People, however, over time, change for the better and for the worst. It’s wrong morally and impractical to remember people as they were when we don’t know them today. Otherwise, we are skunks spraying our foul smell on others.

Our best approach then is to build and maintain the relationships with the people we value most and want to influence best. We will have disagreements with even those we love. Differences are apart of the persuasion process. Even then, we might have to “agree to disagree,” which is one of the healthiest phrases and postures in the world today. One that more people need to embrace.

Regardless of the outcome, through our discussions, we all can grow as we dialog with others. See, relationships become the vessel that carries our words towards trust, consideration, and possible future persuasion. Without a trusted relationship, then, we remain skunks with a bad defensive odor that no one wants to be around.

Let’s then stop spraying each other with our defensive words and learn to trust another before we repel another forever!

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