The upside of losing an argument

What is it about being human that leaves us needing to be right, needing to get the last word in no matter what?

Philosopher Dan Cohen has spent decades perfecting the art of arguing, and yet he has revealed that he’s lost more intellectual debates than he can count. 

Why? Because he has stopped subscribing to the dominant metaphor that surrounds debates – that they are a war with vicious battles fought and with a clear winner and a clear loser at the end.

Read more: Signs it’s time to step away from a family drama

“When we talk about arguments, we talk in very militaristic language. We want strong arguments. Arguments that have a lot of punch. Arguments that are right on target … The killer argument,” says Mr Cohen, dissecting how we argue. “[But] if argument is war, then there’s an implicit equation of learning with losing.”

In his Ted Talk, For argument’s sake, Mr Cohen unpacks why the argument-as-war metaphor is so limiting – because it creates an adversarial relationship. It puts the focus on tactics (knock down your opponent’s argument) rather than real thought (do they have a point?), and shuts off the possibility of negotiation, compromise or collaboration. Because after all, who is the real winner in an argument? According to Mr Cohen, it’s whoever has their worldview expanded. There’s no reason that needs to be limited to one person. In the ideal situation, everyone in a debate could come out with a greater understanding.

The rush of winning an argument can make you feel powerful, smart, right. But sometimes, disagreements don’t quite pan out how you want them to.

Maybe there can be no clear winner, and the argument drags on until both parties feel down. That’s why – every so often – we advocate losing an argument.

Read more: What is toxic positivity and is it harmful?

Of course, we’re not saying you have to back down on a topic that’s extremely important and close to your heart. We’re just saying it can be best to call it a night on some of the sillier arguments you may find yourself in without really knowing why. Sometimes, backing away from a painful argument is the best thing you can do for your self-preservation and mental health.

A Twitter user has gone viral for her take on losing, tweeting: “Normalize losing arguments on purpose so you can go on with your day.” The sentiment has obviously struck a chord, as the tweet has racked up 12k likes – and climbing.

From a young age, we’re taught to strive to be winners – but sometimes, losing an argument really is the best course of action, here’s why:

It’s good to feel humble every so often. After all, no-one likes a big head.

It can save friendships. How many fights have you had about something silly and insignificant? Calling it early could save quite a bit of heartache.

It gives you drive. Any kind of loss can be character building. It can help you re-evaluate where you’re at, and strive to do better in the future.

Read more: Never argue with children

You can gain respect. Just by admitting you were wrong – something so many of us find hard to do.

It doesn’t mean you have to make a grovelling apology. Sometimes saying ‘okay’ and changing the subject will do.

Sometimes you just won’t win. So it’s better to call it early, rather than potentially get into a bigger bust-up. You can still think you’re right – it’s more about taking the high road.

It can save you pain. Maybe you’re fighting about something extremely personal and important, and the other side is only causing you pain. We’re not saying you have to ‘lose’ this argument, but backing away might be the best thing you can do for your mental health. We’d particularly apply this to arguing with trolls on social media – sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is ignore them.

How do you feel about arguing? Is there one argument you wish you could take back in your life? Share how you feel in the comments section below.

– With PA

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