“Winning the Argument but Losing the Sale.” by George Wolfe

Winning the Argument but Losing the Sale.”
by George Wolfe

George Wolfe

George Wolfe

Sigmund Freud and other psychological theorists have argued that social pressures force us to repress aggressive urges. Over time, this repression creates inner conflict until our aggressive tendencies are given an opportunity to be expressed in the “legalized” violence of war. These urges are then cut loose, and people are able to fulfill their vengeful subconscious desires.

The same is true for what in Peace Studies is called psychological violence. Psychological violence is defined as emotional hostility, insults, name-calling, intimidation, verbal abuse, threats and forms of passive aggression. We repress hostile, insulting and abusive speech because it creates problems in our personal and professional relationships. Hostile speech is difficult to deal with in American society because it is protected under the first amendment of our constitution. And we have recently heard many examples of insulting rhetoric and name-calling by Republican political candidate Donald Trump.

Regretfully, Donald Trump appears to be giving expression to hostilities many Americans have been holding within themselves. There are times when we wish we could tell our boss to get lost, or throw a chair onto the basketball court like Bobby Knight, without there being any damaging, long-term repercussions.

Every so often Republicans rail against being “politically correct,” suggesting that the practice constitutes a repression of free speech. The rejection of political correctness however, does not give a person a license to insult people or subject them to verbal abuse. Donald Trump calling Fox news anchor Megyn Kelly a bimbo or stereotyping Latinos as rapists, represents a new low point in political rhetoric among presidential candidates.

In the long term, hostile and abusive speech is counterproductive and invariably comes back to haunt the person responsible for unleashing it. We see this often as politicians who resort to such rhetoric place themselves in a position where they are held accountable for their abusive language, as it is invariably misleading or blatantly untrue. In the end, American voters will prefer a cool-headed leader like Ben Carson whose message is “heal, inspire, revive.”

Years ago, a wise friend of mine named Jack Reichart gave me some excellent advice on how to approach resolving a conflict I was in. He rightfully pointed out that my anger was getting in the way of my effort to convince others of my point, that I was at risk of “winning the argument but losing the sale.”

Donald Trump may be giving voice to repressed hostilities and deeply felt urges held by many Americans, but realistically, you can’t win an election if you insult and alienate half the electorate. His speech may be entertaining and good for television ratings, but it is damaging to the Republican Party and to the process of holding constructive, well-informed debate on the pressing issues facing our country.


George Wolfe is Professor Emeritus and former director of the Ball State University Center for Peace and Conflict Studies. He also chairs the Muncie Interfaith Fellowship, is a trained mediator, and the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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