Alan Jacobs

Stop Arguing, the War is Over

This is a still from  THE OATH , a movie about arguing at Thanksgiving

This is a still from THE OATH, a movie about arguing at Thanksgiving

A while ago I talked about how I don’t like the language we use around arguments. We talk a lot about winning, like they’re competitions.

I’m reading Alan Jacobs’ How to Think (which is so good I want to eat this book) and there’s a chapter where he talks about this! He references Metaphors We Live By, a book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson that discusses “one of the most deeply embedded metaphors in our common discourse…” (Jacobs’ words).


You ever notice that? It's the only way we know how to talk about arguments.

Examples from Metaphors We Live By:


Your claims are indefensible.

He attacked every weak point in my argument.

His criticisms were right on target.

I demolished his argument.

I’ve never won an argument with him.

If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.

He shot down all of my arguments.


It’s no good. You go to war with enemies, not your aunt at Thanksgiving. Everyone says war is hell. I get it. Hell exists in the Facebook comments.

We need to change the way we think about disagreements because the warfare metaphor is doing damage. War leaves no room for empathy. We don’t see a person on the other side of the “battlefield," we see a wrong idea/opinion that must be “defeated.”

From Alan Jacobs:


“When people cease to be people because they are, to us, merely representatives or mouthpieces of positions we want to eradicate, then we, in our zeal to win, have sacrificed empathy: we have declined the opportunity to understand other people’s desires, principles, fears. And that is a great price to pay for supposed 'victory' in debate."


It’s almost Thanksgiving, traditionally a time of war. Let us lay down our arms, pick up a leg (turkey, that is), look across the table at the human being we love so dear, and talk about issues without going into battle.

Even just me saying that felt exhausting. Look, I never said this was going to be easy. I’d much belittle people with sarcastic comments and dismiss them completely. I’ve done it before and it’s REALLY FUN TO DO. But I know it’s not right. I might not change completely overnight but it is something I need to work on.

Seriously, Alan Jacobs’ How to Think is an incredible book. Read my other post inspired by it, The Courage to be Wrong.

The Courage to be Wrong


Being wrong takes courage.

I started reading (with a pencil) Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. I’m only two chapters in but I’m already buying all of you a copy for Christmas.

We’re not as good at thinking as we think we are. Jacobs says that “many errors in thinking arise from assumptions people don’t know they’re making.” We assume too much. We’ve got biases locked in that we don’t realize are messing things up and we need the courage to confront them. Because, as Jacobs points out, it’s RISKY to think.


“Relatively few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits; thinking can complicate our lives; thinking can set us at odds, or at least complicate relationships, with those we admire or love or follow. Who needs thinking?”


Josh Harris is the perfect example of this. In the 90’s, when Harris was only 21 he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye, an incredibly successful book on Christian relationships. It became a number one best seller and influenced the way youth pastors across the country talked about dating.

There were people loved the book but others had really negative experiences with it. Some would reach out and try to explain to Harris how his book hurt them, screwed up their views on relationships, or was used as a weapon against them. Now Harris has a statement on his website about his book and how his opinion on it is changing.

From his statement:


“While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.”


He goes on to make a real apology, owning what he did wrong.


“To those who read my book and were misdirected or unhelpfully influenced by it, I am sincerely sorry. I never intended to hurt you. I know this apology doesn’t change anything for you and it’s coming too late, but I want you to hear that I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself, your sexuality, your relationships, and God.”


At first I thought it must have taken a lot of courage to write something like that but now I think the courage came earlier. By the time he got to the point where he felt the need to say something publicly, the momentum from an earlier act of courage was strong enough to carry him along.

Here’s what Harris said in a TEDX Talk called Strong Enough to be Wrong:


“But it was so hard for me to face up to being wrong because it felt like I was saying a big part of my life was wrong. I didn’t have the courage to do that. What helped me to begin to let my guard down was a few years ago I stopped being the pastor of a large church and I went back to school. I went to graduate school and I stopped having to be constantly right about everything and defend all these ideas and I just became a student who was a listening.”


It took courage to slow down and listen.

NOTE: I don’t think every pastor needs to leave ministry in order to have mindset. I think ultimately the pastor’s role isn’t necessarily “the one with all the answers." Scripture is supposed to stand as the authority figure and the pastor is the first follower, helping the congregation to see the answers and guidance God’s Word gives. I believe a pastor is allowed to be wrong and I think it could be an incredible example for their congregation if a pastor were to get up and apologize during a service.

In that TEDX Talk Harris says “evolution always involves death.” If we want to grow and change we have to let old habits and old ways of thinking die off to make room for the new. That’s what change is.  We need to create a culture that celebrates the courage it takes to question what in your life needs to change. It has to be a culture that allows the space for people to be open and vulnerable enough to evaluate all the things in their life that may need to die.

We’re all wrong about at least one thing. We can’t all be right about everything all the time. So there’s got to be at least one thing you believe that isn’t right.

This isn’t just about political opinions. It could be priorities, how you handle your anger, opinions on relationships, biases about other cultures, theology, and a million other things. We’ve got to be willing to examine these things.

When we belong to a community of people we truly believe care for us and want the best for us, it’ll be easier to have the courage to slow down, listen, evaluate, and be convinced that something needs to change.

Do you have that now? Are you contributing that sense of security to the people in your community?

We need it. Now more than ever.