George Lakoff

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.