“Avoid arguments as you would rattlesnakes and earthquakes.”
– Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
I love this book. It’s as relevant today as the day it was published (in 1936). I recommend it to everyone I can. Particularly the chapter entitled: “You Can’t Win an Argument.”
Carnegie’s basic idea is that in most (if not all) arguments, there can be no winner. That even if you win, you have somehow lost.
There are only two potential outcomes to any argument:
Outcome 1 — You win. You’ve proved your point and made your opponent (typically your husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister, friend or acquaintance, employee or employer, business associate or complete stranger) realize that they are wrong. That they don’t know what they are talking about. That they are a moron.
Outcome 2 — You lose. You’re wrong. Guess what? Now you’re the moron. How does that feel?
Here’s the real truth of it. The only time you absolutely need to be right is either when you are in a court of law attempting to win a case or save an innocent man wrongly accused; operating on a patient, trying to save a limb or a life; or on Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, or any random game show for that matter. Otherwise, there is no point.
“Try to see it my way. Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
While you see it your way, run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone.
Think of what you’re saying. You can get it wrong and still you think that it’s all right.
Think of what I’m saying. We can work it out and get it straight or say good night.
Try and see it my way. Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong.
While you see it your way, there’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long.”
– “We Can Work it Out” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
While Lennon and McCartney share credit on this song as they do on every one of their songs, it’s fairly well documented that Paul McCartney wrote the majority of the words and music prior to receiving any input from Lennon. Not to undermine his contribution, Lennon is known to have come up with the middle bit: “Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friends. I have always thought that it’s a crime. So I will ask you once again.” Can’t say the song would be the same without that.
The truly amazing thing about this piece of writing is that McCartney was twenty-three years old when he wrote it. His understanding of Carnegie’s philosophy on arguments whether he was aware of it or not is astonishingly notable if for no other reason than him being only twenty-three.
“While you see it your way, there’s a chance that we may fall apart before too long.”
You don’t have to be right. Life is not a game show. Unless you’re trying to win and maintain the affections of a Rhodes scholar in which case you’re probably going to be wrong anyway, it should be quite enough for you to know that you and your opponent have a difference of opinion and that your knowledge that they are misinformed is quite enough.
Fact: People disagree. Having a point of view and an opinion are of great importance where a persons relationships and sense of self are concerned. These are not to be confused with petty arguments and disagreements which are relationship poison. If they happen during courtship with any regularity, you need to seriously reevaluate whether or not you and this person are right for one another. More importantly, you also need to ask yourself why being right is that important for you and how it serves you to be right all the time?
“Paul: It must be nice to always believe you know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.
Jane: No. It’s awful.”
-Holly Hunter (Jane) arguing a point to her boss (played by Peter Hackes) in the film “Broadcast News,” written by James L. Brooks.