“It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it” Joseph Joubert
Years ago I attended a seminar titled: How to win every argument. It was an unusual seminar ─ given the number of conclusions the tutor made at the end of the session. He concluded that:
- We all argue to win
- Words matter, only insofar as they get us what we want (so be offensive, if you can/ have to)
- Arguing is a zero-sum game. There must always be a winner and a loser.
It’s still strange that we all ended the lesson without pressing, pushing back or even asking the facilitator the justification behind these conclusions. I also wonder why I never questioned myself about what I thought about them, then.
- What does winning even mean?
Over the years, I have come to understand that winning means different things, to the same/different people, under different circumstances [in debates/arguments].
#1. On the one hand, it may entail destroying the other person’s points, making him/her look dumb, or successfully pulling him/her to your side of the argument.
#2. On the other hand, it may entail speaking up, getting out of your comfort zone and/or becoming a better debater each time you argue.
These aren’t categories, nor distinct personality types, wherein some people in the world only do #1 and not #2. Instead, they’re strategies we (sometimes) rely on, depending on the circumstances.
- With #1 the focus is on others. Your opponent has to be persuaded
- With #2 the focus is on self. The whole point here is self-growth
The role of circumstances
When your opponent is a mischief, scammer or political opponent: you’ will behave and argue differently than, when your opponent is your kid, spouse, sibling, friend or boss.
To that effect, the statement: How to argue and always win is both true and false. Nonetheless, its veracity or falsity depends on how you define winning.
Two people can engage in an argument and exit the interaction happily. Each of them feeling they both won (either opponent or previous self).
2. Is Arguing a Zero-sum Game?
How Joe argued his way into a relationship (True story from Buea)
Joe: “Hey, I know you! You’re name is Glory isn’t it?”
Marie: “It’s Marie. But what makes you say that?”
Joe: “I don’t know……you just look like a Glory to me. What about your second English name? Is that Glory?”
Marie: “Nope. I don’t have any.”
Joe: “Hmmm….well, good to meet you, Marie. I’m Joseph. But my friends call me Shaggy.”
(They shook hands).
Marie: “(mockingly) Why do they call you Shaggy?
Joe: “Camer Thingz! Do you think I’m going tell you the history of the Shagster when you haven’t even shared your nickname? Don’t be shy. What was your embarrassing childhood nickname?”
Marie: “(blushing) I can’t tell you.”
Joe: “It’s as if you don’t want us to be friends anymore Marie.
Marie: “If I tell you, you won’t laugh, Ok?”
Joe: “I won’t……Shaggy might…but I won’t.
Marie: “Forget it lol!”
Joe: “Ok seriously. Pinky swear (he took her hand and did a pinky swear). See. The oath has been taken. The Shaggy will not laugh.”
Marie: “(hesitant) It was ratus.”
Joe: (Silent for some time. Then after a few moments of tension building, he acted like that was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. He closes his eyes. Slapped his forehead with the palms of his hands. And began trying to restrain incoming laughter)
Marie: “Stop it! You swore not to laugh. (Punching him on the shoulder)”
Joe: “(still trying to recover from you disappointment) I’m not….I’m not
laughing…..I… …..just……ratus? (he repeated the name with emphasis) Your name was raaattttuuuussss? That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Marie: “Alright Shaggy…it’s your turn. Why did they call you Shaggy.”
Joe: (went into telling the story).
It all happened in a snack-bar, on February 14, 2019. And two years later, Shaggy and ratus are celebrating their first meeting, first chat, which was their first date, on Valentine’s Day.
Each time I hear their story, I can’t help but observe the subtle arguments and how they all left happy. This is just one of many non-zero-sum games. Win-wins exist in argument worlds.
They were three defining Elements:
- Names: Shaggy and Ratus
- Physical touches: Handshake, Pinky swear and back Punches.
- The subtle arguments they have at each level.
Shaggy fell for her the moment he met her. Ratus fell for him the moment he made her laugh. And they both left happy with the results.
- Do Words Matter?
I am an avid consumer of daddy-daughter related content. And when you spend time in that space, you invariably fall into stories like these:
“There once was a sweet little girl who looked frightened by the crashes and flashes of a thunderstorm. From her bed she called out to her daddy. He came in with a gentle smile and sat down on the edge of her bed, assuring his daughter that she had no point in being afraid—she was safe and Jesus is always with her. The little girl thought about that idea for a moment and then said, “I know that, Daddy. But right now, I need someone with skin on.” Anonymous
The beauty in this story is that almost at the end, there is a little argument. And guess what? Both sides leave the interaction transformed and better off.
Firstly, the dad was right. Jesus will always be there to protect her if she trusts him. Jesus is more reliable than any other protector in the world. And having that in mind will guide her to lead a fearless life.
Also, daughter was right. Dad is not God. God provides and protects. But on earth, Dad has to assume the roles of God – her protector and provider. He can’t just relinquish his responsibilities. And that lesson will/should stick with him for as long as he lives.
Words matter. They enable both sides to make their case, speak their minds and grow in the process. And to do it in the most charitable way possible. With this mindset the notion of zero-sum arguments auto-destroys.
It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game, we can grow from it.
A good argument is not war. It’s not even a tug-of-war, where you can drag your opponent to your side if you pull hard enough on the rope. It is more like a dance that hasn’t been choreographed, negotiated with a partner who has a different set of steps in mind. If you try too hard to lead your partner will resist. If you can adapt your moves to hers and get her to do the same thing, you’re more likely to end up in rhythm.
This is a piece about arguing to grow – if a lot isn’t at stake. I’m sure many came to get strategies on how to destroy your partner completely. Even though, that might be required sometimes, I decided not to get to that today.
However, if you want something like that, drop your comment below and we may deliver it.
Once more, thanks for reading.
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