The Frustration of Arguing About the Truth

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

It’s really all about winning:

Did you ever have a debate with someone who wins the argument even though they are wrong? One good friend of, who is extremely right wing conservative in his opinions, insists that President Obama is not an American citizen, even after birth certificate was presented to the nation. I present the facts, he presents other facts and theories and I find it to be enormously frustrating.


Modern science is founded on the principal of discovering the laws of nature so that we better understand our lives, planet and the universe. Our legal and political system, math and sciences and philosophy, are based on the belief that truth can be found through experimental and observational research.

In our legal system, justice is blind to emotions as it searches for the truth. Defense and prosecuting attorneys present evidence to a jury so that the guilt or innocence of the defendant can be found. This is a profoundly important endeavor because the results lead either to freedom or life imprisonment or execution of the defendant.

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A new article published in the journal, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, presents the theory that, in truth, winning is more important to people than arriving at the truth.

Despite our best efforts to find the facts and arrive at the truth, so the article hypothesizes, in the end, emotions intrude and winning becomes most important.

One of the hot debates that has raged on Mental Help Net was is over Alcoholics Anonymous and whether it pushes it’s own agenda, such as the belief in Christianity. vs.  or tries to help alcoholics recover. In this argument, each sides presents solid evidence as to the exploiting nature, vs, the altruistic nature of AA. It’s been my observation that each side is more invested in winning than in finding what is both good and bad about AA. In other words, even though all of these folks are very sincere in their beliefs, winning is most important. That is why they become so incensed with one another.

A couple comes into marriage therapy because they are miserable about their constant fighting. Presumably, they want to feel better and move on with marriage. In point of fact, each presents evidence of how terrible the other is. The other presents the same facts, from a differen point of view and with a different conclusion. The real objective of each is to win the agument.

Another example has to do with Republicans and Democrats. It seems as though they seek the best way to lead the nation, economically, internationally and politically. In my view, both sides are more interested in winning than finding the best path for the country. Both sides support their side of the debate with fact. But, are these facts always accurate or skewed in the interests of winning? present facts

Over my psychotherapeutic career, I have heard too many clients complain about the impossibility of getting a relative to understand their point of view, or, at the very least, to listen. They, too, become frustrated and angry. As with my experience with the same scenario, the other individual wants to win rather than understand where I am coming from.

So, what to do?

I have found that, one very good solution to dealing with the frustrations associated with arguing, is to simply not argue. In many ways, these types of debates become a study in obsessional thinking. It just goes around and around with no one winning, except that, if you lose the argument, you will probably go away feeling angry and, maybe, stupid. Why continue to argue? Find people who are like minded in your thinking. Remember, just because someone presents the absolute facts about a situation, does not mean they are right about their conclusions. Just let it go. It’s not worth the stress.

If you are in a marriage where the conflict continues then you had better discover what purpose the conflict serves. Even the attempt to win usually has underlying factors. Ultimately, it is best to see marriage as a joint venture having nothing to do with winning and losing.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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