How To Win An Argument: The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

Posted on 08 May 2009 15:07

By Eric Troy

Before you read this you may want to read my article at MaxCondition, Explain the Opposite: The Persistence of Belief as it will provide a fairly good background for some of what follows.

Now that you're back…

How do you win an argument?

Simple. Don't argue!

Have you ever seen the fim, Enter the Dragon?

This was Bruce Lee's last completed film and the whole film was meant to be a vehicle to illustrate Lee's philosophies. One of the most famous scenes in the film expresses what is perhaps the pinnacle of that philosophy (see the clip below).

The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

In the scene, Lee is on a boat traveling from Hong Kong to an island where there is a hardcore martial arts tournament run by this evil rogue Shaolin monk, Han.

Also on the boat is a New Zealand martial artist who is trying to intimidate the other passengers…his likely opponents. Like any true bully, he picks on the boat's smaller crew members. While this is going on, Lee is peacefully standing at the rail, looking out at the water.

So the bully, after kicking a steward into the water, turns on Lee and tries to get him to fight. Which Lee ignores…further enraging the bully. But he's also a little baffled.

He asks Lee what his style is and Lee replies that you could call it the art of fighting without figthing.

"The art of fighting…without fighting?," replies the bully. "Show me some of it."

Lee can see that he will have to do something to get this guy off his back so he agrees. But he suggests that they could use more room to fight and points out a nearby island with a sandy beach.

"We can take this boat," says Lee.

Bruce Lee statue diplayed in Hong Kong

Bruce Lee Statue in Hong Kong

The bully eagerly accepts the invitation and steps into the boat while Lee unties the rope. As soon as the New Zealander is in the boat Lee begins to play out the line and sets the bully adrift behind the boat, stranding him there for the remainder of the trip.

He won the fight without ever actually fighting.

Obviously Lee felt he had nothing to prove to this belligerent bully. He was in a peaceful mood and would not allow this man to have power over him by forcing his reaction. Lee was in charge of himself. He could not be controlled by someone else.

Lee's self-regulated behavior gave him the calmness of mind that equates to quickness of mind. Unfettered by outside influences he was able to quickly, almost effortlessly, surmise a peaceful solution to the bully problem.

But there is more to it than the obvious. Lee could have easily angered the man enough to outright attack him on the spot..thus forcing a defense and counter-attack. But instead he managed to engage the man without challenging him. He actually piqued the man's curiosity and for a moment, the bully seemed just as interested in learning about this mysterious "style" as he did in intimidating Lee.

Well, this advice on "how to win an argument" is similar to that.

Many of you reading this blog are probably passionate about training. And you probably interact with many people whom you believe to have questionable views and engage in unsafe or ineffective training practices. Perhaps you believe they've been led astray by one of the many charlatans in the industry today.

Perhaps you have a friend who is compulsively doing hundreds of crunches to "work his core" because he has back pain. You're thinking not only do the countless crunches not constitute core training but it's probably going to make the back pain worse!

Here's the thing, a person does not have to SPELL OUT a particular belief or attitude for you get a feeling that they have that attitude or belief. Right? You get it from context and from their actions.

Being the person you are you want to guide them toward the light. You want to honestly express your views to them in the spirit of helping them reach their goals. You think you are right and they are wrong and there is nothing wrong with that. You've learned to pick your battles but this time you feel compelled to intervene.

Battle is the key word. Look at that expression. How many times have you heard that used? "You have to pick your battles." There are just as many social situations, and probably more, that are difficult and uncomfortable as are harmonious and comforting. And how are we geared to think of these social situations?

As BATTLES! It must be in our genes.

Many times, when we approach such an encounter we are gearing up for a fight. We expect resistance so we approach the situation with resistance in mind. We may be unconscious of this mental preparation but it's there.

We tell ourselves that we are going to have a discussion but what we are PREPARING for is a debate. An argument.

I wonder if you've ever really considered the true difference between a debate and a discussion? I have had so many occasions where someone has said to me "I enjoyed our argument" or "I enjoyed our debate" to which I responded "I thought it was a discussion."

Well, the first thing you are likely to do when engaging in a conversation with someone whose attitude or belief you wish to change is to draw them out. To get them to state in explicit terms what that belief is. You want them to say it out loud and make a "public declaration".

So you ask your crunching friend, "Why are you doing so many crunches and why do you think that's going to help your back?"

Bad move.

Your intention is to change their belief; not to argue. So, quite simply, don't.

Don't get them to "put in on record". It could be that they have never really formed any coherent philosophy about why they do a certain thing. So asking them to do so, on the spot is not going to help your cause. But even if they do have a clear cut view, once they've stated it publicly they are MUCH MORE LIKELY to cling to that view. And why wouldn't they? To do otherwise would be embarrassing and cause them to lose face.

As soon as you've done that you have turned a potential discussion into a debate. After all a debate is an argument in which the two opponents have TAKEN A CONCRETE STAND on an issue. A discussion, on the other hand, can be viewed more as a meeting of the minds.

There is but one purpose to fighting. To win. To survive. Perhaps your opponent will gain respect for you. Perhaps a mutual respect will grow from the contest. But respect is not the same as agreement!

IN order to abide by this philosophy we must ask ourselves some probing questions. Ask yourself what your motivation is and try to answer that question honestly and objectively. This can be difficult because we are not always as accurate in explaining our reasons as we think we are. But if you have even an inkling that you are approaching this encounter because you want to prove something to yourself or somebody else, it may be a time to back off and "pick your battles" as they say.

Because helping someone does not involve one-upping them. It involves honestly expressing your views and as Bruce Lee himself would say, trying to serve as a signpost. Ask yourself also, why Lee chose this image of a signpost in describing himself and his teachings. A signpost does not impart knowledge and wisdom but POINTS THE WAY TO IT.


This page created 08 May 2009 15:07
Last updated 21 Jul 2016 21:15

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