How to win an argument

How to win an argument by not arguing.

Consider this a lesson in socratic jujitsu.  Business Insider had an article recently on how to win an argument. See:

Their answer. Don’t argue or debate. If  you want people to agree with you,  instead of telling them why their ideas are stupid, ask them to discuss how their proposed solution would work – step by step – give them the benefit of the doubt.

What this does is changes what is happening from a debate to be won to a problem to be solved. And you have engaged them in the problem solving process.  As you ask questions about how exactly their proposal would work, you can help them find out their proposals weak points in a way that isn't threatening. Again, this is you trying to help them make a solution that will work – starting where they are – with their proposal.
As they work through the details, it will be obvious where the weak points are and how to shore them up and to fix them so that the proposal works. All without actually arguing.

So if you want to win an argument, stop arguing. Stop debating. Foster inquiry instead. 

Sneeze Responses

What to say if someone sneezes instead of God Bless You.

Humanists, atheists and other assorted non-religious people have a problem with sneezes. We sneeze just like everyone else. That’s not the problem.  The problem is what to say when someone sneezes that doesn't invoke a god we don’t believe in.

Bless you or God bless you is the idiomatic expression most often used in American English to respond to a sneeze. But since we don’t believe in gods or godly blessings, we don’t really want to say it. But saying, “gosh, I hope you aren't coming down with a cold and if you do, I hope you get over it quickly and in the meantime, please cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze to minimize disease transmission” is a bit wordy.

So what is a good heathen to do?  What can we say instead when someone sneezes? Have no fear, Wikipedia is here – to rescue you and provide some alternatives from around the world. (See:  Now the problem with this list is that a distressing number of languages and places around the world use some variant of “god bless you” as the standard response to a sneeze.

The good news is that there are some really good options available.  Here are 8 of my favorites in no particular order. Feel free to choose one – either in English or in the original language – like the Persian one. You are welcome for solving this problem.

  • Albanian Shëndet (shuhn-det) "Health!"
  • Afrikaans Gesondheid "Health!" (note this is from the German of the same – and has many variations)
  • Bangla Jeebo "Live or live long."
  • Hawaiian Kihe, a mauli ola, or simply Ola "Sneeze, and you shall live", or simply "live"
  • Khmer ស្បើយ (S'baoi) "Fast recovery."
  • Ladino Vivas, or Crescas after a second sneeze. "May you live," or "May you grow" after a second sneeze
  • Luganda Bbuka "Recover."
  • Persian عافیت باشه (Afiat Bahsheh). "May Cleanliness/Purity be bestowed upon you or may it be for your health."


Why embracing randomness is sometimes better than having a strategy.

There is a really cool article about the science of randomness over at:  The tag is – if you can’t choose wisely, choose randomly.
Here’s a synopsis of the article and the research cited by the article.

Rationality is great – but there is often a randomness to what is going on and can’t be avoided. If we strive for perfect (which is not attainable), we often miss the good.

To make this make more sense.  If you can’t find a good reason for doing something, finding a reason, any reason, even a bad reason is our default as humans. That’s why rationalizing has a negative connotation. It means that in the absence of good reasons, we are making up reasons in an attempt to bring order to our decision making.

And while that’s normally a good thing, it turns out that  if we use bad reasons we often end up with bad outcomes.  Which means, we would have had better results if we had chosen what to do at random.  And yes, there is evidence this is true in some situations.

So, for a situation in which choosing randomly is better, it’s best to accept that and embrace randomness through a process called, sortation.

Let’s take hiring for an example. Often our reasons for hiring people is arbitrary. We rationalize why we pick one candidate over another.  But actually, we would probably have better results if … once the criteria for basic qualifications are met – the person who gets the job out of several candidates is chosen by random lottery.  This would replace arbitrary bad reasons with randomness, which is actually likely to give us a better outcome, despite the counter-intuitive nature of this approach.

The benefit of adding randomness into the hiring process would be evident. Imagine what our work forces would look like if we did hire people randomly – assuming our basic hiring criteria were met.  We would probably have a more diverse workforce.

I think the key, like anything, is to know when to employ reason and when to give yourself over to random selection. And the solution, as always is to challenge our own assumptions. If we find ourselves searching for reasons we need to question whether we are rationalizing or not. And if we are, perhaps consider experimenting with random selection instead. What’s the worst that could happen? You already don’t have good reasons for making a choice. So flip a coin and see what happens.

My Heart is With You

What to say instead of “I’ll pray for you.”

We non-religious have a problem. How to express sympathy and empathy without resorting to religious language.  We have this problem when someone sneezes and also when someone experiences a loss or something tragic happens.

Our problem is we want to let the person know we care about them and are wishing them well, without resorting to the standard, I’ll pray for you.  Why? Because not only do we not pray, we are also of the opinion that praying accomplishes nothing, except makes the person praying feel like they have done something constructive when they really haven’t.

So what can we say instead? I have two things I say.

The first is – My thoughts are with you. Because they are. If someone I love is experiencing something bad. I worry about them. I may not be in a position to do something constructive to help them, but that doesn't mean I’m not worried and hoping for the best, because I am. So, I’m thinking of them and/or my thoughts are with them seems like a perfectly rational thing to say – and it’s true.

The 2nd thing I sometimes say is “My heart is with you.”  Because that’s it isn't it.  It’s not just my thoughts. It’s my heart too. My heart aches and I really wish I could do something to help.

What do you say instead of “I’ll pray for you?”

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