On being right versus winning

People who want to make the world a better place and adhere to a certain ideology often tend to have a lot of (sometimes heated) discussions. Through discussions and arguments, they want to show the other party that they are wrong and should change their ways. Vegetarians/vegans/animal rights activists are particularly prone to do so.

I have always held that trying to convince another person of something is not a crime. It *is* however, an art. If you believe in something that something is good, and you have rational arguments to back it up, you have every right to try to make another person see your point of view and to try to change him or her in your direction (of course, we are not talking about coercion or manipulation). The core of the issue is doing it in an effective way.

I would like to touch on a distinction between three different things here: being right, winning an argument, and winning.

  • being right: this is when you either believe you are objectively right, or actually are objectively right – there’s not that much difference. Being right has no real effect in terms of what you want to achieve. I.e. you may be right in thinking that eating animals is murder, but if another person doesn’t agree, it doesn’t have much effect.
  • winning an argument happens when someone else says you are right. It may have an effect, but not necessarily so. Don’t think that when another person admits defeat in an argument, you are necessarily achieving something except an ego-boost. In fact, the opposite might be happening. An expression from sales is “win an argument, lose a customer”. Maybe the other person admits defeat, but it may make him even less sympathetic towards you or the cause you defend.
  • winning: winning happens when you are actually achieving the results you want to achieve. You may need to do some digging for that. You have to check whether the new behaviour of the other (which you have helped set in motion) is actually making a diffence, e.g. for animals. If that happens, then not just you but everyone wins.

Try not to be right, try not to win arguments. Just try to win!

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