My dear friend, Rachel, just posted a comment on Facebook, “I think I’m about to get in trouble on a friend’s page. Best shut my yap.” My response was the following comment: “Do a cost/benefit analysis and then proceed accordingly. I saw my comment in print and thought, “And to think I used to write poetry.”

But when it comes to sticking our necks out and debating, it is probably pretty good advice. As I have described elsewhere, I am naturally argumentative and love a good debate. You may recall from an earlier post that my fellow grad school mate, Penny once described me in her amazingly wonderful Appalachian drawl, “Elizabeth would argue with a post.”

Some of those arguments were transformative and some were just fun. At other times, they were draining, left me in a lingering state of emotional turmoil either because I felt hurt and/or that I felt that I had hurt someone else. I am not a mean person but I am a quick thinker and when hurt or angry, I can use my verbal ability in a very aggressive way. This was particularly true in my teens. One of my high school teachers wrote in my senior year book, “I will miss your acid tongue.” I don’t think he missed it because he ignored my Facebook friend request when I put it out there a couple of years ago. And I could see that he was active on Facebook and friends with other students.

An excellent lesson I learned during the horrible work situation that led to my first of two major depressive episodes was to trust myself and choose my battles carefully. I spent nearly three years at that workplace, surrounded by some amazingly competent and dedicated people and others, well not so much. And since the folks in the “not so much” category were in management, even us amazingly competent and dedicated underlings misbehaved. I spent a lot of time in conflict with managers and coworkers because I felt both personally and professionally attacked and unable to do my job. I was given two managers, with totally different training, and totally different goals. In other words, it was a structural set up for failure. Before I fully realized how futile my situation was I spent a lot of time questioning in my head, “Is it me or is it them?”

Sometimes arguing for me is an intellectual exercise or sport. At other times, it has been a way of seeking reassurance when I am anxious. I did a lot of that kind of arguing at that place of employment. The illogic and chaos of the place was so disorienting. If only I could explain my ideas logically or counter criticisms in a reasonable manner, the universe would become organized again.

The universe didn’t reorganize itself until after I was laid off from the job in a very nasty way. But it was freeing. I got my depression treated. I got my Washington state psychology license and planned to start a small private practice in case my research career, the one I had fought to achieve and maintain over the span of 20 years, wasn’t viable. I wrote a small grant with a software company that designs web-based training, using a rather ingenious curriculum design developed by a professor at mid-west university. The grant was from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a pilot educational program. This was truly exciting as I had been working in computer-based parent education program research and development since my doctoral dissertation. Telehealth was a new, growing, and much needed research area. I live in a metropolitan area but I spent my training years, six years in North Carolina, one year in northern Florida, and two years in southern Indiana, working with rural families with very little access to even the most basic parent education on how to help little kids learn to cope with the difficulties in life in ways other than hitting, kicking, or throwing tantrums.

For my doctoral dissertation, I had carried out an independent project (as opposed to working on a professor’s project) a clinical trial evaluating a parent education program that I developed along with my husband, who is a software engineer. The results of the trial were modest, but positive and statistically significant. Working with an established professor translating parent education to his web-based instructional design meant continuing a line of research using technology as an additional mental health service delivery method.

You know I love writing about context. This is why I am not making a long story short. If you have not yet gotten my message, I was REALLY invested in my line of research. Getting help to under served populations. Preventing the really treatment resistant mental health problems that can develop in folks who don’t get early intervention, many of whom end up being “treated” in our penal system. This may sound overly self-important or idealism bordering on delusion, but I really viewed it as a vocational calling of sorts.

Back to the grant. We spent the $50,000 the government provided very very well. The pilot project was a success and something of which I will always be extremely proud. The parents who used the program loved it and they also provided me with very positive feedback regarding the email-based discussion thread moderation and coaching I provided to them as they completed our little program.

Although I enjoyed working with my co-principal investigator, the Big Time University Professor, I was extremely unhappy with a key staff member at the company, with whom I interacted daily. I think it basically boiled down to his taking a different role on the project than the one that he had been accustomed to, which was being in charge functionally if not officially. In other words, management had been very hands off. He really did not like this and fought me over everything including the program content and learning objectives.

I also disliked managing a project being carried out in the Midwest while I lived in on the west coast. It was time to write the “big grant” the one that was the follow up for the pilot grant (the granting mechanism was defined as a two-stage grant, the little grant followed by the big grant.) If the government were to funded the second grant, it would have been a $250,000 grant, which is not enormous in the research world but it is significant and a huge amount for a researcher at my career level.

I knew people in Seattle with relevant production and project management experience. REALLY GOOD PEOPLE WITH WHOM I’D WORKED WELL IN THE PAST. I’d contacted nationally known researchers, primarily psychologist and they had agreed to serve as consultants on the grant with no financial compensation. (That is standard, by the way. Psychology professors do a lot of stuff for free.) The pool of possible Internet programmers in Seattle was huge compared to a small university town in the Midwest. The professor and I set up a meeting with the company C.E.O. I wanted to request that I hire a Seattle crew to carry out the project, should the grant be funded. Big Time University Professor thought this was a grand idea, in fact I think he was even the one who suggested it.

C.E.O.’s response was a surprisingly loud and angry, “You work with the team you’ve got or we part ways.” I REALLY wanted to write that grant. But I was clear about what I was and was not willing to put myself through in order to get that chance. He had made a bold and seemingly bullying move. I calmly replied, “If the only choices are to keep this team or to part ways, then we will part ways. But I think there are other solutions to this problem. Let’s discuss those.”

I didn’t argue but I stood my ground. The small grant was over. I was back to collecting unemployment. My family needed for me to make an income. It wasn’t just about my idealistic goals or my career. It was about putting food on the table. The meeting ended on an ambiguous note something along the lines of “Let’s keep talking about this.”

My gut told me to get out and that what looked like a wonderful possibility would not be in reality. The C.E.O. was not a bad guy but he was disrespectful and I had no confidence in his ability to treat me like someone with something of value to offer the company. They were also struggling financially, had been through a number of rounds of lay-offs, and a few years later, the company folded. So he was also trying to protect existing staff rather than to expand the company into Seattle.

My husband agreed with me and I declined to write the grant. It was disappointing but felt like the exactly right decision. I ended up getting on research staff at the University of Washington and starting my psychology practice. I ended up loving both jobs, the former as long as it lasted, which was three years.

These days, I keep my arguments with posts (figurative or literal Facebook posts) to a minimum. I try to think about the costs of acting as well as the costs of not acting. I think about what things I will not get to do if I am busy arguing. I think about the fairness and strength of my argument. I consider the other side. I consider other solutions to the problem. I think about whether I am trying to solve the right problem.

Conflict is a fact of life. Some conflict is even necessary for life, especially if one has relationships with at least one other human being. But conflict as a way of life? No, thank you. I’ve got too many other things I want to do with myself.