09 December 2018

Is charcoal black, red or purple?

Several years ago, I wrote a regular column for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The editor of JEANS, Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna now handles the 'Littlestars' tabloid distributed with 'The Sunday Morning'. This is the eighth article for Littlestars.  Scroll down to find the full series of articles written for JEANS and the those of this new series.

Some people love to argue, have you noticed? It’s almost as if the most important thing is to hear one’s own voice. That’s not enough either. They also want to get the last word. Otherwise they are upset. They feel they’ve lost an important debate.

Now some arguments need to happen, make no mistake about it. Sometimes when we strongly feel about something and someone else appears to be talking nonsense, we feel we have to voice our opinion. We feel that we must make the other person see reason.  

Reasonable people will step back and admit if they are wrong. They won’t fight. They won’t get angry. The problem is that it is not only reasonable people who argue.

Typically, people start with some idea of what’s best. For example, someone might think that blue is the best color for a wall. So that person will bring up all kinds of reasons why blue is best and will not listen to any other opinions.  

Not all arguments are about which color a wall should be painted.  Some are about very serious things. Sometimes it’s a worthwhile argument, but there are times when we yap and yap and yap over trivial things. 

Supposing someone picks up a piece of charcoal and claims ‘this is red’.  You know it’s black. You say, ‘no, it’s black.’  ‘It’s RED!’ your friend insists.  The friend maybe color blind or maybe just wants to have an argument. Sooner or later you will realize that you can’t convince your friend, even if you got other friends involved and they all said ‘black’.  

Black. Red. Black. Red. No, black. No, red. What nonsense, it’s black. Don’t be silly, it’s red. 

You could go on and on.  If your friend thinks that getting the last word (red) in the argument settles the matter, that charcoal is red and not black, that’s being silly don’t you think? If you think getting the last word (black) convinces your friend that charcoal isn’t red, that too could be silly. Maybe the friend is just tired of arguing or has decided something like this — ‘it is red, and red it will be, whether or not I got the last word.’

Lots of arguments are like that. And sometimes there will be one person saying charcoal is red and another one insisting that it is yellow.  

Does it really matter?

That’s the question we don’t ask ourselves often enough.  Charcoal doesn’t seem to care, does it? Whatever you call it, whatever color you think it is, it does its thing.  Same as grass or a mango or a paper weight.  

It’s a simple question that needs to be asked: ‘will it make a difference one way or another?’

If not, it’s probably wise to let it go. Let the other person have the last word. Give yourself the last smile. That’ll keep longer than the word.  


Articles for THE NATION
A puddle is a canvas
Venus-Serena tied at love-all
Some jokes are not funny
There's an ant story waiting for you
And you can be a rainbow-maker
Trees are noble teachers
On cloudless nights the moon is a hole
Gulp down those hurtful words
A question is a boat, a jet, a space-ship or a heart
Quotes can take you far but they can also stop you
No one is weak
The fisherman in a black shirt
Let's celebrate Nelli and Nelliness
Ready for time travel?
Puddles look back at you, did you know?
What's the view like from your door?
The world is rearranged by silhouettes
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?
Still looking for that secret passage?
Maybe we should respect the dust we walk on
Numbers are beautiful 
There are libraries everywhere 
Collect something crazy
Fragments speak of a thousand stories 
The games you can and cannot play with rice
The magic of the road less-traveled
Have you ever thought of forgiving?
Wallflowers are pretty, aren't they?
What kind of friend do you want to be? 
Noticed the countless butterflies around you?
It's great to chase rainbows
In praise of 'lesser' creatures 
A mango is a book did you know?
Expressions are interesting things
How many pairs of eyes do you need?
So no one likes you?
There is magic in faraway lights
The thambilil-seller of Giriulla
When people won't listen, things will
Lessons of the seven-times table