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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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The Frustration of Arguing About the Truth

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 15th 2011

The Frustation of Arguing About the TruthIt's really all about winning:

Did you ever have a debate with someone who wins the argument even though they are wrong? One good friend of, who is extremely right wing conservative in his opinions, insists that President Obama is not an American citizen, even after birth certificate was presented to the nation. I present the facts, he presents other facts and theories and I find it to be enormously frustrating.

Modern science is founded on the principal of discovering the laws of nature so that we better understand our lives, planet and the universe. Our legal and political system, math and sciences and philosophy, are based on the belief that truth can be found through experimental and observational research.

In our legal system, justice is blind to emotions as it searches for the truth. Defense and prosecuting attorneys present evidence to a jury so that the guilt or innocence of the defendant can be found. This is a profoundly important endeavor because the results lead either to freedom or life imprisonment or execution of the defendant.

A new article published in the journal, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, presents the theory that, in truth, winning is more important to people than arriving at the truth.

Despite our best efforts to find the facts and arrive at the truth, so the article hypothesizes, in the end, emotions intrude and winning becomes most important.

One of the hot debates that has raged on Mental Help Net was is over Alcoholics Anonymous and whether it pushes it's own agenda, such as the belief in Christianity. vs.  or tries to help alcoholics recover. In this argument, each sides presents solid evidence as to the exploiting nature, vs, the altruistic nature of AA. It's been my observation that each side is more invested in winning than in finding what is both good and bad about AA. In other words, even though all of these folks are very sincere in their beliefs, winning is most important. That is why they become so incensed with one another.

A couple comes into marriage therapy because they are miserable about their constant fighting. Presumably, they want to feel better and move on with marriage. In point of fact, each presents evidence of how terrible the other is. The other presents the same facts, from a differen point of view and with a different conclusion. The real objective of each is to win the agument.

Another example has to do with Republicans and Democrats. It seems as though they seek the best way to lead the nation, economically, internationally and politically. In my view, both sides are more interested in winning than finding the best path for the country. Both sides support their side of the debate with fact. But, are these facts always accurate or skewed in the interests of winning? present facts

Over my psychotherapeutic career, I have heard too many clients complain about the impossibility of getting a relative to understand their point of view, or, at the very least, to listen. They, too, become frustrated and angry. As with my experience with the same scenario, the other individual wants to win rather than understand where I am coming from.

So, what to do?

I have found that, one very good solution to dealing with the frustrations associated with arguing, is to simply not argue. In many ways, these types of debates become a study in obsessional thinking. It just goes around and around with no one winning, except that, if you lose the argument, you will probably go away feeling angry and, maybe, stupid. Why continue to argue? Find people who are like minded in your thinking. Remember, just because someone presents the absolute facts about a situation, does not mean they are right about their conclusions. Just let it go. It's not worth the stress.

If you are in a marriage where the conflict continues then you had better discover what purpose the conflict serves. Even the attempt to win usually has underlying factors. Ultimately, it is best to see marriage as a joint venture having nothing to do with winning and losing.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Above Commentor not Exercising Brain; Fight does not equal Debate - Anna - Jun 26th 2011

I can understand why the above comenter feels using the computer is a way of 'spacing out.' She obviously has not absorbed the doctor's message.

The sort of debate she describes as 'stimulating' is exactly the sort of win-or-lose rather than truth-finding the author deplores.

Reading something does not mean you understand it. We do not give enough attention to things we are not already convinced of, do we? Thanks for the example.

Arguing and frustration - Allan N. Schwartz, Phd - Jun 15th 2011

Arguing can be stimulating if the people in the argument are open to considering a different point of view.  Under that circumstance, there is something to learn. After that, it becomes an exercise having nothing to do with stimulation but only with being right. When an argument reaches that point, there is no use in continuing the argument because no one is learning, only and everyone is becoming frustrated. Why argue about Obama's birthplace when solid and factual truth has been clearly submitted. Unfortunately, people too often search for ways to prove themselves right and will reject facts in favor of their opinion, even in the face of fact.

Dr. Schwartz

Benefit? - Cathy - Jun 15th 2011

Conflict gives mental stimulation.  People these days spend so much time spaced out with the computer or television that conflict is the only true exercise of their mind and spirit.  Sort of like a dog that doesn't get exercise and therby chews up the furniture.  What is easiest is to find those of like minds but what a dull and uninteresting relationship that usually is.  Also, the birth certificate is a fraud and such documents are a dime a dozen, thus the illegal immigrant issue and the fact that it materializes a couple weeks before he takes out Bin Laden (?) seriously, no mental stimulationization from that one!  It becomes the "if everyone was the same".  Some people thrive on "debate" and I am one of them - it feeds my soul.  I, also, love to be right but work really hard to try to achieve that.

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