How often do you want to win compared to winning the argument?


Today is May 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you want to win compared to winning the argument?” While navigating the chaos you will come across one argument after another. Topics that generally start arguments center around jobs, money, pursuits, and other personal interests. Some examples include “why would you declare history as a college major?” “Why would you quit a job you hated but made lots of money for one that you loved but made less money?” “Why do you want to push yourself and get a graduate degree; that seems like so much work?”


Those who are absolute in their knowledge of all things related to you often lack any substantial evidence of navigating their own chaos. They have the answers but none of the evidence to support what they are saying. They have nothing on the horizon or even in the conceivable future; but they will certainly argue with you. Why on earth would you engage with such people when you are trying to translate a dream into reality? Every moment counts. And the more you allow the absolutists to rent space in your head, the less room you have for your own thoughts and for the lessons learned from those who successfully navigated the chaos.


If you study how people navigate the chaos you will find most of them, if not all, never cared about winning the argument. They simply do not have any time for such trivial matters. In fact, most will not even engage in the argument. They simply let the other person talk.


As Jeremy E. Sherman wrote in Psychology Today "If you’re dealing with someone who will say anything to win an argument, you shouldn’t keep arguing with them." Now the other person could be a spouse, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker. Someone in your life is going to argue with you as you navigate the chaos. That much is guaranteed. So what? Let them argue. Do you care? Are you going to engage in the argument? Do you want to win the argument or win?


Those who navigate the chaos want to win. Let me repeat that. Those who navigate the chaos want to win. Winning an argument? No thank you. Winning a debate? Not interested. Being right all the time and proving to others who smart you are? Those who navigate the chaos have little time for such nonsense. Do you? For those in higher education, winning the argument is sometimes the only thing that matters.


In his book Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, Nassim Nicholas Taleb examines higher education as it applies to this question. Taleb defines the doers of society as the source of all great invention and creativity, while academia remains anchored in a protectionist fashion of their own intelligence. Taleb argues that academics focus their attention on winning an argument rather than winning. Such an observation on higher education, however, has been around for over 70 years and is often known as Sayre’s law named after Wallace Stanley Sayre (1905–1972), U.S. political scientist and professor at Columbia University who noted "Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low." Sayre’s observation echoes a formulation noted by Charles Philip Issawi "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake.”


Political philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote about arguments in his 1833 essay “Every circumstance which gives a character to the life of a human being, carries with it its peculiar biases; its peculiar facilities for perceiving some things, and for missing or forgetting others. But, from points of view different from his, different things are perceptible; and none are more likely to have seen what he does not see, than those who do not see what he sees. The general opinion of mankind is the average of the conclusions of all minds, stripped indeed of their choicest and most recondite thoughts, but freed from their twists and partialities: a net result, in which everybody's point of view is represented, nobody's predominant. The collective mind does not penetrate below the surface, but it sees all the surface; which profound thinkers, even by reason of their profundity, often fail to do: their intenser view of a thing in some of its aspects diverting their attention from others.”


In other words, you will most likely never win an argument so spend your limited time, energy, and resources on translating your dream into reality instead of engaging with someone who only wants to win an argument.

  • How often do you find yourself arguing with others? Why is that?

  • Do you feel a need to win every argument? If so, why is that?

  • Can you let others win an argument and go about your current life situation?

  • Do you realize that the energy you spend on arguing with someone will only detract from your ability to translate one dream after another into reality?

  • Now that you are aware that some people just want to win arguments and never really pursue their dreams, how does that change your relationship with those in your life who merely want to argue?

  • Are you so busy arguing that you are blinded to navigating the chaos and translating your dreams into reality?

  • Are there people in your life who argue with you just to distract you from trying to translate your dreams into reality?