WinThe Person, Not the Argument by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche. 2023.
Author: A Little Faith Lift…Finding Joy Beyond Rejection
AWSA (Advanced Writers & Speakers Assoc.)

“Win the person, not the argument.”  I’m not sure who said that, but it’s super applicable if you want to live a Christ-like life.  That being said, it’s really, really, really hard to do.  It requires patience, unselfishness, diplomacy, compassion, kindness and humility, to list just a few attributes.

As a former debate coach (eons ago), I taught that the competitors needed to win both the judge (who hopefully would decide that the argument also had been won). Debaters entered a room and asked for the judge’s paradigm.  Novice judges (probably parents who had been guilted into judging by their children), if honest, would say that they had no idea what that meant.  Seasoned judges would say “tabula rasa,” meaning that their brain was a blank slate; they would depend upon the structure of the arguments to choose the winner and would be totally open-minded about the discussion. I’m not sure that’s possible, but it made the judge sound pretty cool.

We all know that life is not a structured debate where each person gets the same amount of time to defend, counter and question. Can you imagine disagreeing but setting the rules ahead of time?  And then sticking to the rules?  “We both get eight minutes to present our case.  Then we have three minutes to question what has been said…”

Arguments in the real world are…well, arguments, and sometimes they get heated. People interrupt.  Raise their voices.  Refuse to accept the validity of anything the other person says. My way or the highway.   Abraham Lincoln once said, “When arguing with a fool, make sure the opponent isn’t doing the exact same thing.”     Sound advice.

The Bible gives us a few examples of people who “argued” with God and won.  Moses pleaded with God not to kill the Israelites for worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32: 9-14). Abraham convinced God to save Lot’s family when God determined to destroy Sodom because of its sinfulness (Genesis 18:16-32).  When Hezekiah became ill, he begged God to save his life and was granted another 15 years (2 Kings 20:1-11).


Proverbs 15:1 is often quoted as a reminder of how to handle a disagreement.  A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.         These people in the Bible showed respect to God when they disagreed with Him. There was no name-calling, no “You have no right to talk to me that way,” no misunderstanding about Who it was with whom they were differing.                                                                                                                                                        Recently, I overheard a conversation (argument) about our presidential candidates.  My stomach turned as voices raised, interrupted, ignored facts and made attacks personal, refused to find something valuable in what the other person said, and used the “You” attack regularly.  (Sidenote: unless paying a compliment, “You” statements have the potential to be derogatory or hurtful.)  You can guess the result of this attempt at political persuasion: neither party changed his mind.

To “win the person, not the argument,” we must take a learning approach.  Decide to listen to actually learn something instead of being heard.  Be able to say, “I’ve never thought of that” or “That’s an interesting idea” or even this one: “I think we should just agree to disagree” instead of letting the discussion ruffle our feathers.  If those don’t work, just tell someone that you’re a tabula-rasa kind of person.  Chances are, that might end the argument.         

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