on winning and losing

I have written about this before – the reasons I quit online discussion forums – and now neuroscience is backing me up. Sort of, I’m not sure the conclusion of this article would say I should just walk away from online forums. I think I’m avoiding stress but we’ll see.

Online “discussions,” particularly on forums or, these days, on certain blogs, quickly devolve into fights where no one is really listening and everyone involved is determined to prove their own opinion. I used to get caught up in these fights. I’d feel really frustrated that no one was listening to me. It wasn’t, I was sure, that I wanted people to agree with me – I just wanted to feel heard. It’s the nature of these conflicts that no one feels heard – and everyone just keeps shouting louder.

When an argument starts, persuasion stops.[…] So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.

This is what happens when a discussion becomes an argument. It’s no longer an exercise in logic and reasoning. It’s just a fight. And being in a fight brings its own frame of mind, a whole set of attitudes, expectations, and conditioned reactions that go along with arguing. As soon as that happens, no one cares who is right and who is wrong. All that matters is who is friend and who is foe. So if you’re trying to win over someone whose natural allegiances are not with you, getting into an argument is a sure way to fail.

That’s exactly what I tried to say, but said ever so much more clearly and persuasively. But perhaps my agreement with the author is coloring my view. But it makes sense. Listen to the people around you. The minute – the second! – that a discussion turns into a fight, it’s over. No one is listening anymore, each is simply trying to shout his or her own point.

And the next stage is to pull out experts. You can find an expert to say almost anything. Global warming? All the experts agree that it either is a huge problem or doesn’t exist at all. You choose. And what happens when you pull out your expert? “They hate you. That’s what happens.”

It is possible, I think, to discuss differences in opinion, but only when neither party is invested in “winning.” Winning, by definition, requires someone losing. No one wants to lose.

Anyway, I win. I’ve been saying this for years. Was that really where I was going with this post? Oh dear. I think I just finally found my expert to trot out and agree with me.

But we’re right.

no winners


4 thoughts on “on winning and losing”

  1. I never got involved with online discussion forums. [Or at least none after about 1999!] I know that from my experiences as a commenter on blogs that innocuous comments that I make can and have been misconstrued. I go back and re-read what I wrote, but cannot figure out why someone thought that what I said was “fighting words.”

    Which brings me to my point: some people are wired to argue and take offense regardless of intent, logic, facts. And like you said above, staying away from them is the best idea for all concerned. Smart move, Zazzy.


    1. I think that given that you can’t control other people and force them to maintain a civil discussion, there really isn’t another option than staying away from online fights. I’m like you, I often couldn’t understand what upset people so much when I expressed an opinion. It never seems to be okay if you have a different opinion. I remember a discussion where I commented that I don’t like football and somehow that was transformed into I think people who like football are stupid. Huh?


  2. I agree with Ally B; some people THRIVE on drama. I don’t know why–proving they’re right makes them feel superior/secure/comfortable? I don’t get involved in many Facebook arguments(that’s where they usually happen) and generally have no issues on my blog. Once in a while someone takes offense to something I’ve written, but I let them know that it’s MY blog, I pay for it and can write what I like. 🙂


    1. I think that what the researchers are saying is that we all may have a biological imperative to react this way. Perhaps it’s a learned behavior but the fight or flight response is biology. Of course, like any other trait, it’ll be stronger in some people than others – and apparently we can learn to respond differently, at least on the outside. Me? I try to walk away and not let it get me all twisted up inside.

      I consider the blogs my little home on the web. I don’t mind when people disagree with me and I try to respect their opinions. But I won’t get into a shouting match with them. It hasn’t happened in a long time anyway. Ultimately, though, it’s my blog and I reserve the right to delete anything that becomes offensive. Not that I’ve ever had to.


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