A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. - author unknown

I remember hearing my grandparents quote this phrase when I was young. Evidently it is quite old, having originated more than a hundred years ago.

Throughout history there have been a lot of wars and persecution over differences of religion, in which one side tried to force a belief upon the other. But the truth remains as it is; it is not changed by fighting over it. Today, fighting over beliefs is considered a sign of ignorance and stupidity; it is for people who cannot defend their beliefs with evidence and reason.

Fortunately, freedom of belief and religion is a well accepted principle now, which has made a big improvement over much of the world. However, even in peaceful nations people still sometimes make the mistake of getting into heated argments over matters of fact. Even though no force is involved, such actions still are ineffective.

Dale Carnegie, a famous author of the early 1900s cited the above phrase in support of his advice regarding arguments. From his best selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, in the chapter titled "You Can't Win an Argument", he said:

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, and--

"A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still."

A public debate might convince the audience but it generally won't convince the opposing debater. If you really want to convince a specific person rather than an audience, do it in a one-on-one conversation, don't do it in public, and treat it as a joint initiative for discovery rather than a contest.

Sometimes people aren't interested in the matter you want to convince them of. Sometimes they are interested, but they are afraid to believe something that differs from a cherished wish of how they would like things to be. Sometimes people have beliefs that they came by long ago, but they no longer remember the evidence that convinced them at the time. So a person may be interested but not receptive, or receptive but not ready. Even if they discuss it with you they may need some time to mull it over before they would change their opinion.

It is helpful to keep this in mind in your personal life as you discuss ideas with your friends and colleagues.

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Copyright Arthur de Leyssac, 2014, All Rights Reserved.