New feature: Advice from the Elderly Aunt who’s been around the block (Episode 1 — Is listening to other points of view overrated?)

Editor’s Note: The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life (just please, no financial questions). Her column will run on the second and fourth Monday of each month. To get the Elderly Aunt’s advice, email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” 

Is it worth engaging someone in debate if you’re reasonably sure neither of you is going to budge on your opinions, or is “listening to other points of view” overrated?

The Elderly Aunt has very strong opinions about almost everything, and as far as she can see (which is very far, indeed) her pronouncements are uniformly correct. Therefore, it would be silly of her to modify any of her of her opinions in order to mollycoddle someone who holds a different — i.e. wrong — opinion.

Never-the-less, your question interests the Elderly Aunt because of two words you use in your phrasing of it: “debate” and “budge.”

The word “debate” comes to us from Middle English via Old French from the Latin dis- (expressing reversal) + battere ‘to fight.’ This suggests to the Elderly Aunt that you view an issue-oriented discussion with a person who doesn’t agree with you as a contest, a sort of fisticuffs with words. Indeed, your use of the word “debate” conjures up Macbeth to the Elderly Aunt. She sees you as a stand-in for the Scottish King in Act 5, Scene 8, waving your arms about and shouting, “Lay on, ___________(whoever disagrees with you), and damned be him who first cries ‘Hold! enough!’”

Your second intriguing word choice, “budge,” came to English from the Latin word, bullire ‘to boil,’ via the French word bouger ‘to stir.’ It is almost never used by itself—when was the last time you heard someone say, the “watched pot never budges.” Instead it almost universally appears in conjunction with a negative to mean its opposite. To the Elderly Aunt your use of the word “budge” in conjunction with “neither of you is going to” seems code for, Me? Stir? I’m not changing my mind even the tiniest bit, no matter what you say!

The Elderly Aunt hates to think of you as succumbing to the most banal — and at the moment, most popular — human failing, combative incuriosity. She, herself, adores talking with people who hold different — and, therefore, wrong-headed — opinions. After all, she asks, what are opinions but the conclusions we reach from our experiences? The way the Elderly Aunt sees it, she would severely limit her grasp of the complexities of life, should she converse only with people who have formed similar opinions from similar experience.

Of course, if some ill-informed dullard simply wants to go off, the Elderly Aunt believes her time is much better used weeding the garden or watching baseball.

Feel free to add your two cents as well and add a comment. Got a question? Need advice? Email your issue to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” 



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