Winning an argument

What’s the point of winning an argument in which nothing actually changes? Just to be able to say “I won!” Ok, so what? Do you really win if nothing actually changes as a result?

We don’t have the ability to change other people. If and when a person changes a belief or behavior, it is because they ultimately decided to make that change. We may have had some influence on that. We may have provided what they needed to help them make the decision to change. But for the most part, people change based on their own decisions. Yes, I know there are people who do things differently because someone in authority over them tells them to do it. But even in that situation, they can choose not to – which would probably require them finding another job, or enduring some kind of punishment. But even then, just because you do something you are told you have to do, doesn’t mean that you actually have changed your belief about it.

The actual power that any of us have is in changing how we see other people and ourselves. It’s the decision making power that we all have. And in so doing, maybe, just maybe, the other will start to see us differently too. But how others respond is up to them.

Maybe, just maybe, the other will start to see that there is a different way to engage in conversation and interaction with us and others. Maybe they will see that not every conversation is an existential battle of good and evil, right and wrong, who is in and who is out, us and them.

Sometimes when we win the battle, we lose the war.

How do we define success in a conversation? Especially when we are talking about a conversation that is about a controversial topic, like abortion, or LGBTQ+ rights, marriage, race, money, the environment, and more. For some people, success or victory, in such a conversation can really only come if they conquer the other person – they get them to change their mind and belief, or get them to surrender the conversation, or overpower someone else. Maybe they need to hear, “I’m wrong and you are right.” Maybe success is being able to successfully deal with all the verbal punches, inconvenient facts and data, and questions designed to actually be attacks. Maybe it’s just a matter of wearing out the other person and being the last one standing. Otherwise, there is no victory.

But you know, there’s other options for how to deal with contentious issues. See, I don’t pretend for one second that I have the ability to change someone else’s heart or mind. I have to tell you how freeing that is and what a sense of relief it is.

I don’t believe people just wake up and all of a sudden, on the spot, decide to believe what they believe. It’s formed over years and experiences and information available or not available to people, and more. It builds off of other beliefs. Beliefs don’t exist in a vacuum. I have argued that people come to their conclusions and beliefs for what they see are very good and solid reasons. It doesn’t matter what I think about them. It doesn’t matter if there are better options. It doesn’t matter if they are in fact right or wrong. Nothing I say or do will change someone’s beliefs by me having direct confrontation with them in a manner that is intended to destroy their beliefs. That’s not the same as me saying anything goes and that some beliefs should never be confronted. I never said that. Sometimes you just have to say “That’s wrong and here’s why…” Sometimes you do that because people are being hurt in someway. This is about seeking justice.

But there are plenty of conversations that don’t fall into that level.

Another option available to us is attempting to see the humanity in the other person. This is about having humility enough to admit that you don’t have all the information that exists. You admit that people come to conclusions that you may not agree with, but they did so because it was what made sense given what they knew and what information was available, and their life experiences.

Part of the way we live into this is to be inquisitive. To search out from the other what you share in common. To seek understanding of that person without judgement of their beliefs. To force yourself to see the image of God in them. Judging beliefs and people is easy. Humans excel at that. But listening for understanding, that’s hard work. If I can do that, then I consider that a victory.  It’s not based on how I get someone else to do something or believe something.  It’s based on what I can have influence over, which is me.  And when I adopt this approach, something has changed – me.

There are lots of different types of conversations. I think we spend a whole of time in conversations that are going to go no where because our intent isn’t to learn or listen or even seek justice. It’s to be right. Which really an attempt to make the other person into a replica of ourselves. It dehumanizes the other and dismisses their right to exist and believe what the believe. It says that I am superior to you and have more value and worth.

Justice is about seeking out the good for the benefit of many. It’s about right relationship between people. It’s about care and concern for others. Justice is often about stopping the harm that is happening, acknowledging that harm exists, and working to restore people who have been harmed so that there is wholeness in the community. It’s not about winning arguments. It’s about change that benefits the whole.

Winning an argument for the sake of winning – what is that really about? Why engage in that? To feel good about ourselves? To affirm our own beliefs? To impose our will on others? Maybe something else.

But I know this – it isn’t about the wellbeing of others. Or even ourselves.

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