The Arguments We Lose Even When We Win

Our differences with people sometimes must be set aside.

When I was younger, I took on several such complicated issues, believing the verbal conflict was worth the effort, especially if the other party was critical of me. Some generated an intensity, overheatedness, and tendency to linger because each side wanted the final word.

Too many carried too high a price except as teaching lessons, but I was slow to learn.

Please understand. My default way of living was to get along with others, show respect, and display diplomacy.

Yet, as I reflect on my life, I realize I sometimes went too far to make a point. I recognize that the cost, even when I won, didn’t equal my emotional pain and the injury I inflicted.

I’m not discounting that some with whom I butted heads were dishonest or wrongheaded. I wasn’t false, but not every skirmish in the name of truth, right, or correctness is worth the clash.


Everyone should learn the meaning of “Pyrrhic Victory.” Here is what Wikipedia tells us:

A Pyrrhic victory is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Such a victory negates any true sense of achievement or damages long-term progress.

The phrase originates from a quote from Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum in 279 BCE destroyed much of his forces, forcing the end of his campaign.

Anger gets the best of us. When it does, we are not at our best. Moreover, we justify more conflict by all the labor and frustration we’ve endured.

This is called a “Sunk cost.” Wikipedia again comes in handy:

The Sunk cost fallacy has also been called the “Concorde fallacy”: the UK and French governments took their past expenses on the costly supersonic jet as a rationale for continuing the project, as opposed to “cutting their losses”.

In economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost (also known as retrospective cost) is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

In wartime, this means throwing away more lives, contributing to further suffering, and spending money on prolonging what may turn into an endless war. If you long carry a grudge, you risk digging your own grave.

Winning won’t retrieve our honor or the push, pull, and unhappiness of the past. Nor will the dead come back to life.

Concerning personal differences, we need to consider a better way.

Some suggestions may minimize the wrongheadedness of unneeded, unhelpful discord:

  • How much do you value the person with whom you are at odds? Will losing or ending the contact be worth whatever is straining your connection?
  • Any conflict discussion should discuss concerns, not call names or overtalk the individual on the other side of the table.
  • Slow down, take breaks, and cool off. Listen more than you speak. Try to find something you can agree on. Master self-control.
  • Accept that some disagreements are unresolvable. Such is life. Those who hold contrary ideas needn’t be monsters.
  • Hesitate to say, “If I’d been in his situation, I wouldn’t have acted as he did.” Unless you’ve walked in his shoes, you can’t be sure.
  • If the circumstances permit it, express your sensitivity to the other’s feelings, but don’t say, “I know how you feel.”
  • Avoid raising your voice or speeding up your standard rate of expression.
  • Know yourself. Develop quiet confidence leading to self-assurance. Negative opinions about you will become less impactful. Your self-esteem need not require the approval of people who don’t share your views.
  • Practice the art of graceful surrender. If you lead a life of repeated battles, you should first give up the goal of life satisfaction and contentment. Alienating oneself from the human race leaves us in a lonely place.
  • Accept the world as a habitat where a landslide win in a U.S. presidential election includes at least 50 million people who don’t want you.
  • Be careful of becoming the kind of person you hate.
  • You will not obtain vindication or apology from everyone who does you wrong in life. Grieve and come to terms with the inevitable.
  • We do not have control of everything, including the notions of others. Work on what you can control.
  • Take on tasks within your power that don’t turn your stomach and brain inside out.
  • Cultivate humility. Don’t let self-righteousness take you over.

You can do all this and “fight the good fight” on the essential and inescapable conflicts. Even in those cases, we don’t win them all.


The top image is called “Jealousy,” as created by Tumisu. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Laura Hedien’s Sunset Colors in Late May 2022 follows with her permission. It is a joy to feature her artistry: Laura Hedien Official Website.

8 thoughts on “The Arguments We Lose Even When We Win

  1. Another wise and informative post, Dr. Stein. I didn’t know the origin of Pyrrhic victory before this post. I love all the points but especially “We do not have control of everything, including the notions of others. Work on what you can control.” Yes!

    It strikes me too that one’s position in relation to another matters as well. If we are an employer or a parent, we can win battles over an employee or child because of our power but at a cost. Maybe it’s unwillingness to speak up in the future or perceived lack of safety, not sure, but it seems that we need to be careful in those disagreements.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. drgeraldstein

    Yes. Being careful is necessary. Thank you, Wynne.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. LOL… have you been talking to my Husband? 🤔😝😆
    I am lucky to have married very well. 🥰❤️


  4. Dr. Stein, thanks for this timely and informative article. In my younger years as an ardent Roman Catholic, I had several heated arguments with an older male cousin who was a Jehovah Witness. In the end, we both remained firm about our own beliefs. I appreciate your suggestions for minimizing wrongheadedness of unneeded, unhelpful discord. I’ve come to accept that “some disagreements are unresolvable.” I’m still working on accepting that I will not “obtain vindication or apology from everyone who does [me] wrong in life.” There are many still on my list. In “[coming] to terms with the inevitable,” I’m practicing the Zen method of letting go of my resentment and anger.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for your very thoughtful and searching comment, Rosaliene. I’ve accumulated several observations on the question of vindication over time. Take the 1942 internment of West Coast Japanese American citizens during WWII. It was not until 1988 that the U.S. Government apologized to them and issued $20,000 to each still alive. Many were not.

    These people were innocent of the traitorous activity of which the U.S Government had been afraid. They lost property never to be recovered, dignity, careers, and relationships in return for heartbreak, gross mistreatment, and race-based oppression.

    Even if an individual was still alive after 46 years, was the ultimate vindication worth the wait? Most of us have waited for someone to see the light about us and apologize. As for myself, I believe when vindication does come (as it does occasionally), it usually doesn’t matter much to me anymore.

    I hope your Zen practice achieves the desired result.

    Liked by 2 people


    It took me most of my life to realize that just because I felt threatened by someone’s opinion, it didn’t hold much actual power over me, so I could then decide not to get into an altercation trying to defend my position.

    Some people will purposely throw out something inflammatory, trying to get a rise out of people. Whether it’s their internal need to vent when a fight erupts, or their need to win, I realized that some people will purposely try to get a rise out of us.

    Nothing cools them off than a response of “Oh? That’s an interesting point you’re making.” Adding “I can’t say I agree with you though,” will act as a trigger for them to try to push buttons to get a fight going, so staying neutral is important.

    I prefer not to get into long discussions with people who present a volatile topic in a way that is confrontational, because most often they will simply use our words against us in their arguments, to try to prove they’re right and have a superior intellect.

    If those people continue to try to press me to get into an argument, I see that they actually have deep anger issues and are just looking to vent.

    Those are the people I will then limit in my life because their toxic approach is exhausting in how much energy gets put into “discussions” yet nothing of substance (except for arguments) comes out.

    I prefer to set boundaries with such people, letting them know that I’m not open to being brow-beaten. I need actual conversations, not “debates” masquerading as arguments intent on destroying my views because “they are right”.

    Sidestepping such “conversations” and the people who engage in them isn’t weak, it’s just good for our mental health!


  7. drgeraldstein

    Agreed, Tamara. From where I stand you are very wise. Many would do well to follow your practice. Thank you for adding your words.


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