Saturday, 16 June 2012

Why debating seldom pays

It doesn't pay to engage in verbal fights with irrational people. They will dismiss your well-thought arguments. They will ignore facts and figures. They will wear you down and, in extreme cases, they might make you doubt your senses. Most of us would be already millionaires if we had been paid for all the hours that we have wasted in useless discussions.

Nevertheless, no matter what business you are in, you probably make part of your money through your dealings with irrational customers, colleagues, or employees. The world being what it is, there are few ways to make a living without having to deal with some overbearing individuals. Your efficiency and happiness will depend to a great extent on your ability to deal with this kind of persons.

Avoiding nonsense altogether is hardly a feasible approach, since no one can remake the world according to his personal preferences. Getting angry doesn't work either, since you would only create stress for yourself without improving anything.

A workable system to put an end to a pointless debate consists of admitting that you don't know. Saying words such "maybe" or "possibly" in a polite tone has the same effect. This approach is not a compromise with irrationality, but a necessary method of self-protection. Let me show you a few examples of what happens when you use this strategy against everyday nonsense.

[1] When someone tells you that the world is coming to an end and that you should be anxious and depressed, you can admit that possibility and indicate that you will start worrying when you actually see civilization fall apart.

[2] Should you get to hear that saving is useless and that you would be better off by living in the moment, thank that person for the advice and reply that you will stop saving when you have tangible guarantees that your financial future is properly taken care of.

[3] A similar approach can be used against someone exhorting you to read the newspaper every day, warning you that, without constant new information, you will soon lose your competitive edge. Remain serene and refrain from giving a snappy reply. Say that you take note of the remark but that you are satisfied with the effectiveness of your limited-information approach.

[4] From time to time, you might also be told that eating healthy food is a waste of time, since cancer can hit anybody any time and that there is nothing you can do to prevent it. Do not allow such comments to affect your tranquillity. Respond that you will think about it, but that your good nutrition habits have kept your healthy so far.

[5] Scaremongers will tell you that markets are going down and that opportunity is shrinking. Should you be concerned and depressed? Should you engage in a pointless debate? Not at all, not for a single moment. Admit that the overall economic situation is difficult and that, precisely for that reason, you prefer to pursue whatever opportunities remain available.

[6] Some people will scorn you for thinking long-term, arguing that there is no point in looking beyond the next quarter. You can confirm that this is true in some areas, but that on the other hand, a long-term vision has always helped you in the past to make good decisions. Keep your statements short and polite. Do not waste time in worthless duels and go quietly your own way.

[7] Occasionally, you will have to face people who sustain that all attempts at happiness are doomed because, in life, everybody has to endure frustration. A good response to such statement is to acknowledge life's difficulties and let it go at that. Do not become agitated and engage in endless discussions, since you have better things to do. Let reality restate the truth. You know that nothing prevents you from looking for solutions to your problems and achieving as much happiness as you can.

[8] Those with a pessimistic view of human nature tend to love long debates. They will tell you that society is hard and mean. They will complain that, nowadays, you rarely find good people any more. When you hear such remarks, don't get upset and don't get into a debate. Simply admit that there may be a lot of bad persons in the world and use that as an extra incentive to seek out rational and honest people.

Avoiding pointless discussions is not an endorsement of nonsense. Staying out of useless debates does not evade logic nor supports mistakes. On the contrary, your keeping away from irrationality is an essential aspect of your right to act according to your own rational interests.

Don't waste time debating with people who are not listening. Silly ideas and unrealistic projects always fall apart on their own. Never engage in heated disputes where your opinion is not going make any difference. Choose the path of reason and let the foolish go their own way.


[Image by ryemang under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]