I really don't know how to phrase this, which is a large chunk of the problem. I'm hoping that someone out there will recognize this thought process and throw some words at me until I figure out what I'm talking about. I got into a fight with a friend a little while ago and it turned ugly. We disagree on a lot of things, partially because we were raised in very different cultural environments and so we interpret things differently. Every few months he and I get into some minor conflict and it escalates almost comically out of proportion, there's a shouting match, and the next day we're left wondering what the fuck even happened there. About a third of the time we realize that we were violently agreeing because sometimes we're using the same term to mean different things. So he and I talked about this, and also some past incidents, and I'm not sure how to keep this from happening again. I don't want to get in fights with people. I don't want something adversarial. When my friend was talking about us having an argument, he was talking about it as if we were lawyers and our two positions were our clients. I really, really don't like that. I don't try to defend positions unless I really think they're objectively correct, so I'm not going to try to pretend that I don't have anything riding on a disagreement. Of course I go in thinking I'm right. Of course I want to convince the other person that I'm right. So in that sense, I want to win, I guess. But I think of The Truth as something that exists outside of what people have figured out so far. So in that sense, I don't really want to win debates. I want to find out what's true. Winning feels nice, but it's ultimately just a distraction. As my friend gets more and more angry, I think he loses interest in looking at the situation objectively and starts really really wanting to win. He'll become more focused on proving that I'm wrong than proving that he's right. I don't think he realizes he's doing that. I wouldn't be able to tell you in the moment, but after the fact, I can usually guess. It happens gradually, and he's never started out obviously uninterested in something but coming in to pick a fight. He likes Knowing Stuff and Figuring Stuff Out. So I don't want to assume he's yanking my chain. But he will absolutely yank my chain. Most often, it's by pretending not to understand a point I was making and pressing me to explain it in different ways until I get too angry to want to continue or I say something that's easier to attack (because it's been simplified four or five times now, and anything simplified that much is going to be wrong in at least one major aspect). And in the moment, I really can't tell pretending-not-to-understand from genuinely-not-understanding. (By pretending not to understand, I don't mean that he does some kind of Socratic questioning. I mean he'll go for "what" and "could you say that again but like I'm ten" or what have you.) I don't think he sees baiting people and the like as something wrong because he thinks of this in adversarial terms; because if there's a fight then someone has to win. If you're treating every disagreement like debate club then of course you want to trip your opponent up in as many ways as you can and rack up points and win. In a debate club or a courtroom, this is how this sort of thing is supposed to go. And I don't think he's the only person who operates like that, or even that it's rare. Shit, at least he always starts in good faith; think of all the tumblr sjws who just kind of assume that anyone who disagrees with them is a total monster with no redeeming qualities. I don't have another model of serious disagreement I can think of. I feel like this is inevitable if two people disagree over things hard enough, that it stops being about truth and becomes a kind of contest instead. But I don't want that. I can't do that. If everyone gets too angry, I just get scared and leave. I worry a little that I'm being some kind of sore loser, that it's not that I don't want to win but that I want to change the rules of the contest to something that I can win. I'm not great at on-the-fly, in-the-moment logical thinking; I need time for that, so I'm never going to be top pick for debate club. So am I just whining because I'm not good at the thing? But at the same time, I really don't think it's conducive to figuring out what's actually true if everyone's angry and defensive, either, so I think it's probably legitimate for me to want this to work out another way. I just don't know what that looks like.