Arguing with People Online is a Waste of Time

On Thursday, I wrote a longish post about why I didn’t like Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s definition of creativity.

When I finished, I felt exhausted. And icky. It didn’t feel right. And I couldn’t place why.

And then I remembered the old Dale Carnegie book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which stresses the importance of avoiding arguments.

As wise old Ben Franklin used to say: If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will. So figure it out for yourself. Which would you rather have, an academic, theatrical victory or a person’s good will? You can seldom have both. . . . .

Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right. You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph.

It’s a principle I do my best to apply when I’m interacting with people in real time. But I had never given much thought to its online application. Not that Mihaly Csikszentmihaly is reading this blog, but if he were, it’s unlikely he would be convinced of the strength of my position. And the tone of my argument doesn’t reflect well on me, either. What’s more, the public polemic just doesn’t jibe with the vibe I’m trying to create here.

It makes me look bad, and I’m not convincing anyone. So why do it?

Why, indeed.

Arguing in a blog is waste of time. So I should stop doing it.

That isn’t to say that I won’t ever engage in back-and-forth or banter on this blog. But if I do, I want to make sure what I’m doing is banter or debate rather than argument or criticism. The former is fun and playful, the latter runs counter to what I’m trying to accomplish.

And that’s all I have to say about that.