A recent debate with a friend came to an end when she said to me, “It’s impossible to talk to you. You always have to be right.” My response went something like this:
“Would you prefer that I go through life trying to be wrong? Is there some super-secret merit in spending one’s life spouting inaccuracies? Or would my attempts to avoid the truth simply be more convenient for you? My apologies for being a seeker of the truth. A defender of fact. A champion of the righteous. I stand in the light. The Force is with me!”
That’s actually pretty close to what I said, except I said more and was certainly less eloquent. But I’m certain that I ended with that last sentence about the Force because I’m always looking for a solid closing sentence for every one of my rants, and that was it.
I was also shouting these words from atop a chair as she stormed from the room, so although I don’t discount the truth in my statement, I admit that sounded like a self-righteous jerk in the process.
But it was worth it.
Two things about this encounter:
1. This is not the first time that someone has told me (often in frustration) that I “have to be right.”
It still makes no sense to me.
I like to think that I have an open mind about most things and am willing to listen to both sides. A friend of mine is fond of saying that intelligent, rationale people can disagree, and I think she’s right.
I actually play Devil's Advocate quite often and am fond of reminding people that everyone has a justification for their action, as stupid as it may seem to you.
But in the end, I want to find the truth. My goal is to assume positions that I believe are right and just. When confronted by something other than the truth, I will argue vociferously in its defense.
I find nothing wrong with this. There will be people who will argue that a position of introspection, doubt and intellectual curiosity is better one of absolute certainty, and while I agree in principle, there are moments when one must make a decision and take a side. There are moments when the truth becomes evident and must be defended.
My approach can oftentimes be less than subtle and lacking nuance, so perhaps this is what my friend is actually complaining about, but I find nothing wrong with the desire to be right.
2. Please note the strategy that I used in this encounter, because I believe it is an effective one. When your opponent storms out of the room in the midst of a debate, do not mistake this as surrender. It is an aggressive means of defending one’s position. Oftentimes at a loss for words, opponents will turn to physicality in order to continue the fight. When I was younger, this might mean a fist to the face. In a more civilized context, this means turning one’s back and rendering your words meaningless.
It might also be an attempt to rearm for a future encounter.
Either way, it’s a sign that you are winning. Any cessation of hostilities will only serve to strengthen your opponent if the debate continues at a later time.
In these cases, I always launch into the most ostentatious monologue possible, shouting my words (and in this case mounting a chair) so that my opponent is forced to endure my attack as long as possible. It’s an opportunity for a closing argument. A parting shot. An uninterrupted, indefensible barrage of words that you should take advantage of whenever possible.
My hope is that it is demoralizing for my opponent. Perhaps it’s making a rearmament less likely.
At worst, it’s incredibly fun.