Withhold a powerful and decisive argument which will win you the discussion but might hurt someone, at least twice a month.
When I was 17-18 years old, we had a substitute teacher one day. A former priest who still was a priest at heart, although he had forgotten why. He spent half an hour talking about euthanasia, telling us how bad and sinful any kind of euthanasia was, because… because, well, the word itself means “good death” — and it’s not!
He not only managed to turn a complex subject into a black and white cartoon, but he even managed to do it for one of the least convincing reasons imaginable. First of all, It doesn’t matter what the word means — and secondly, I would much prefer a painless and planned and wanted death than the opposite. How can it be better to die a painful death? The discussion is whether euthanasia is morally right, not whether it’s “better”.
I didn’t say a word, though. I snorted. I sighed. But I remained silent. I didn’t need to get into a fight with him; I knew I was right and he would only be hurt…
Later, though, I regretted my cowardice. He was wrong, he didn’t know what he was talking about, he was conflating the physical act of dying with the morality of it, he was talking nonsense and I should have said something — so I decided to not hold anything back next time someone were confused in matters like this.
I began discussing religion and philosophy at every opportunity. I probed people’s minds to find inconsistencies. Why do you believe in angels? What kind of angels? How do they exist? How made them? What do you mean you don’t know! It’s the basis of your life, you make decisions based on what the angels (or God or Jesus etc) tell you! How can you not know! How can you not want to find out!
It’s possible some people found me unbearable. It’s possible some people got hurt by my arguments. It is possible I didn’t care that much: I usually prefer difficult truths to pleasant lies. (And besides, why should someone’s belief in a deity be left alone just because it’s a religious belief?) I never withheld my arguments.
Now, however, I do. I don’t bring up these religious/philosophical questions anymore, and if others do, I tend to state my position without aggression and without attacking the other. Now, I let people believe what they want to believe, most of the time: if they want to discuss their position, fine; if they don’t, that’s fine too.
If it’s important for them to have that belief, and if it doesn’t hurt anyone, and if they don’t force their belief unto me, I don’t mind. (Not enough to start an argument, in any case.)
I still regret not starting an argument with our priestly substitute teacher, but I know now that I would have regretted starting one as well. He was a bit confused, he regurgitated bits and pieces of his old professors’ theology, he didn’t know what he really meant or why he meant it. But he had some points. And perhaps most importantly: he needed to keep his beliefs, he needed to stay in his faith and, he was scared about changing the way he looked at the world.
And I am glad, despite all, I didn’t challenge him just to show off. It didn’t matter, no-one listened to him, and the week after our regular teacher came back anyway.
Sometimes truth is more important than not hurting people. Sometimes it’s more important not to hurt people.
And sometimes there are no truths, just opinions. In that case, there are only bad reasons to win an argument. When there are no truths, I should withhold my arguments all the time.
And that’s the truth.