In a very old book from the 4th century, I find the story of those two hermits who lived together and had never had an argument. One day one of the two said to his equal: «I think that, at least once in our lives, you and I should have a dispute like everyone else does. That way we would know what quarreling is. To which his partner replied: «If you want, let’s have it. But the bad thing is that I don’t know how to start». “Very simple”, said the first. I’m going to put a brick between us and then I’ll say, “This brick is mine.” And you will answer me: «No, it belongs to me». This will lead us to polemicize and dispute ». So, they placed the brick between them. And the first one said, “This is mine.” The second answered. “No, I’m sure it’s mine.” But the first one insisted: “It’s not yours, it’s mine, it’s always been mine.” To which, this time, the second replied: “Okay. If it belongs to you, take it.” And so it was that the two anchorites failed to fight. I think that the candor of this naive narrative makes all our disputes ridiculous for various reasons:
The first, because it shows that at least 99 percent of our fights arise over nonsense. If we were to find reasons to quarrel, we would not find them smaller than this story. But the absurd thing is that, when we argue, the topics of our discussion seem gigantic, essential, extremely important. But seen with a slight smile they are, almost always, pure nonsense.
The second, because most of our discussions arise out of desire for possession. If the words “mine” and “yours” were deleted from the dictionary, most of the controversy among men would end. If at least it were discovered that friendship is prior to and superior to the brick for which we argue, the arguments would also end. And the serious thing is that, often, by discussing things as unimportant as a brick, we put at stake and still lose things of infinite value: friendship, love.
The third conclusion is that is true that very old saying “Two do not quarrel if one does not want to”. The second of our anchorites understood this very well. He started arguing, but fortunately he got tired right away. He realized that peace with his partner was worth much more than clarifying who was right about ownership of the brick. And so, giving in, seeming to be defeated, he won. He won the friendship, which was worth more than a million bricks.
I would like to ask all my friends to pass through the screen of irony the reasons why they are going to argue before starting to argue. They will seem ridiculous to you. And they will discover that the bitterness that leaves all controversy behind is a fruit that is not worth tasting.
Translated and adapted from Razones para vivir (José Luis Martín Descalzo, 1991).