Once, a man went to run a couple of errands, and while he was on his way, he heard an argument taking place in the town square. He realized rather quickly that the people involved were very, very wrong, and he decided to stop by – just for a few minutes, you understand – to help educate them. In point of fact, the man was more than a little upset by the thoughtlessness and incorrect assumptions he heard there.
So he fought and argued and rebutted and pointed out contradictions and uncovered fallacies and then took a short breather and dove back in for another round. He wielded his words with passion and cleverness, and he was right, and it felt good to be right and to show others (both those with whom he was arguing and those who passed by) exactly how right he was.
An interesting thing happened, partway through the day. The man’s vision began to blur, and he started to see the arguments of the people there in the town square, their words and their passions and their (wrong) beliefs, but not the people themselves. They didn’t quite disappear, exactly, but they became shadowy forms, irrelevant except in that they were capable of giving voice to those incorrect beliefs and faulty arguments.
It took a while for this to feel like a problem. At first, in fact, the man found it easier to argue when he didn’t really see the people he was arguing with. But eventually, as the day drew to a close and the man knew that he really ought to be leaving, he realized that once the faces became shadows and the argument itself became all that he could see, the idea of convincing anyone of anything had flown right out the window. It became an exercise in engaging argument-to-argument, rebuttal-to-rebuttal. That had its uses, of course, just as sparring was useful in becoming more skilled at self-defense, but it wasn’t what he had set out to accomplish that morning at all.
So at last, the man stepped away from the town square, still holding his own beliefs and passions and truth, and walked on to the market to pick up the eggs he had been planning to make for breakfast so many hours before.