David Heinemeier Hansson

March 7, 2022

The long argument

It's rare that an argument is so strong that'll immediately pierce through all the cognitive defenses an opposing mind might muster. So if you only weigh an argument's worth on whether it served to convert someone to your perspective this instant, you'll usually be disappointed. "Right now, right here" is a bad timeframe to measure the success of your arguments on. There's a long tail of conversion.

Because even when the best arguments fail to breach the mental walls, they often leave cracks. Cracks which time, new observations, and deeper consideration can open. Until the walls finally crumble, and a perspective is let in.

This might happen five minutes after the debate is over, two weeks later, or even a couple of years from now. Some arguments cause cracks that can take a decade or more to tumble the hardened walls of our mind. Often it's not even clear which exact argument and crack lead to the final change, because a dozen of them developed concurrently.

I've been writing and arguing on the internet for well over two decades. I've seen this pattern time and again. That almost everyone recoils when they face arguments that test or stress their beliefs, opinions, or affiliations. That almost every argument needs time to develop. But that patient persuasion is none the less a mighty force that does move minds.

Ironically, while the act of changing your mind is painful to most people, it's also when enduring connections can be forged. Most of my best friends are those who've changed my mind, and I theirs. Even if it didn't start out like that, even if in the heat of a contested moment we melted the mood. When tempers cooled, a unique opportunity to bond was presented.

These bonds are best sealed with grace. An acknowledgement that changing your mind is difficult for all sorts of social reasons, and that any conversion in perspective will be brittle if it's greeted with scorn and contempt. Whether I TOLD YOU SO or WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG.

The grace of simply being happy that someone heard what you had to say, and eventually found it compelling. Who cares how long it took, just be happy that they're here now.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.