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Stubbornness as a virtue / character flaw
February 26, 2013 5:30 PM   Subscribe

So from time to time I get described as stubborn, or very stubborn, from my friends and peers. I've accepted that I am, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around when exactly it can be bad, when it can be good, and how to deal with it without sacrificing my principles. A lot of the times when I'm stubborn I feel there's nothing wrong, that I'm right, that I'm just sticking to my principles or to my strongly held beliefs. I'm not the best at debating, so sometimes I wonder if this is a compensating mechanism, but dammit I know I'm right (I'm really not arrogant, honest :) ). How do I unpick this? Should I unpick this? I'm curious for opinions from other people, both stubborn ones and ones that have to deal with stubborn people from the outside. When is it good? When is it bad? How to dial it down? How do you talk it down from the inside? How much do you accept that's just how someone is, how much do you try and change?

Generally I find myself stubborn with opinions, but I would also describe myself as open minded, open to new ideas. Just the opinions and values that run very deep, like sexuality, morality, ethics, life choices, politics, sometimes I can really find myself cornered. More often than not, the person challenging my views has diametrically opposite views, either for themselves or of me, and my stubbornness kicks in, and I dig in, and defend my corner, but ultimately the other person gives up in disgust and dismisses me as so stubborn. I try to understand their view, I'm more apt to say 'Well, I'm not sure it's really like that' rather than 'Nope you're wong'.

There's other areas of life, where I've made a decision to conduct myself a certain way, live a certain way, do a specific thing, not do a specific thing, and when that decision is made, I stick to it, stubbornly. I put a lot of thought and agonising into that decision, wasn't just made on a whim, and I'm not about to just change it because you're telling me I'm a stubborn fool. And the harder you push, the harder I dig in. You can change my mind, but pushing me into the corner is not the way.

I don't arrive at my opinions, my beliefs, my decisions easily, or without a lot of thought, so that stubbornness really kicks in if I'm challenged in an overly confrontational way. So how do you really judge, objectively, where to draw the line? When is it enough stubbornness and when is it too much? When are you a pushover with no courage of your convictions and when are you the stubborn fool? How do you decide, stubborn people and stubborn victims?
posted by Elfasi to Human Relations (21 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Most of human interaction is not about who's right. It's about empathy. A lot of smart people don't realize this. Find the things you like in people, and focus on them. A stubborn adherence to correctness may indicate an insecurity in other areas.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:44 PM on February 26, 2013 [25 favorites]


Well, it seems to me that it ought to depend on whom you're talking to. For example, I tend to cede points more frequently to significant others or close friends, simply because the relationship is worth more than the principle. However, I place a low premium on the value of strangers, so there I'm more likely to make a stand when it comes to my beliefs.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 5:45 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this is complicated, and it might be good to discuss with a friend who shares your values. Sometimes people use the label stubborn to mean "this person won't do what I want them to do, and how dare they have different opinions from me?" Other times the label stubborn can mean that someone is an asshole. So it depends on the situation.

Some of the things that you refer to as "opinions and values that run very deep" are natural things to be stubborn about. People don't generally refer to me as stubborn, but if some homophobe starts going off about the evils of same-sex relationships then that person might find me stubborn as hell. So if most of these situations are, as you say, people with diametrically opposite views, and they are personally attacking you, then being stubborn makes sense.

In other situations, you might want to think about how important it is to be right. Sometimes people nee to always be right and will relentlessly drive home a point in conversation about something that doesn't matter that much (example: biographical details of a celebrity) and I just think hey, it's ok to let this one go.

To know where you are on this spectrum you could use some feedback from people close to you.
posted by medusa at 6:05 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


So how do you really judge, objectively, where to draw the line?

At all times, at the back of your mind: "Is it really in my best interests to dig in here? What might I achieve by digging in? What might I achieve by humoring the alternative and taking it for a spin?"

Less looking out for your prior-formed conclusions, and more looking out for your own interests.
posted by anonymisc at 6:42 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


My husband and I are both stubborn as hell, and it's probably one of the reasons we're still together. It's probably also one of the reasons we've nearly been divorced. Here's my threshold: Will someone or something be hurt or injured if the incorrect thing is not corrected? If no, then ignore. If yes, then make the fact known. Some examples:

- a religious friend telling me that I, as an agnostic, am a terrible person because I don't believe in X faith. I don't defend agnosticism. I do say, "Wow, that was pretty hurtful. You sure you want to continue this line of conversation?" Deflecting = hurt. Confronting = maybe hurt, or maybe an apology. Confront.

- my father in law loves Fox News, watches it several hours a day. Personally, I don't agree with the ideologies. I love my FIL and although I disagree with his views, I know him to be a generally kind and considerate man. When he says things like, "Clinton sold us out to the Chinese!", I realize that the only thing rebutting him with facts will get us is a fight, one I don't want because I like my in-laws and I like having a decent relationship with them. Also, I know that no matter how many facts I throw at him, he's not going to change his mind. Personally, I think he's wrong, but I usually respond with, "That's nice. Is that a new bird feeder outside? Did you make it?" Deflecting = no hurt. Arguing = hurt. Avoid the argument.

My husband and I will get into stupid arguments about something, like whether our cat is 6 or 7 years old. There are no cat diseases of which I am aware where there's a sudden onset at exactly X age. Who cares if the cat is 6 or 7? I'll usually opt out at that point and say, You're probably right (even if I'm pretty damn sure he's wrong) because it really doesn't matter. Deflecting = no hurt. Arguing = hurt. Deflect.

If someone confronts you and says something hurtful, or tells you your religion or sexuality or morals are wrong, you do have the right to tell them it's very nice that they shared their opinion, but they can shove off now. However, I would also say that you need to remember that your religion, sexuality, and morals are all well and good for you, but maybe not for other people. If you're finding that other people are arguing with you because you're proselytizing, well, then you might want to think about that. I've known people of just about every faith (and also atheists) who took it as their calling to convert others to their belief systems. In that case, that's not being stubborn, that's trying to tell other people they're wrong about their personal belief structures, and that's not ok. Just be aware of the dividing line of "am I making a statement about how I want to live?" or "am I making a statement about how I think everyone should live?" when you do get into discussions about tricky subjects.

Personally, I don't discuss politics or religion with most people, as I find it generally ends with hurt feelings for everyone for no real good reason. There are a lot of other interesting things to discuss.
posted by RogueTech at 6:48 PM on February 26, 2013 [17 favorites]


Read what weapons-grade pandemonium said about a thousand times because it is a thousand times right. It took me years to learn it, and it is an incredible truth that changed my life completely.

The only time you win a prize for winning an argument about facts is at a trivia contest. And they're called trivia facts because they're not important. At all other times being factually correct is vastly less important than finding a meaningful social consensus.

It may seem harsh to have to choose between dying alone while rigorously sure of your vast intellect and factual positions and fearlessness in defending them, or dying surrounded by loving friends and family who you have treated with kindness and compassion with the subtle informed use of your storehouse of knowledge. But that's about what it comes down to.

Lighten up, Francis.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:00 PM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Firstly, great answer by RogueTech. Read it.

Beyond that:

More often than not, the person challenging my views has diametrically opposite views, either for themselves or of me, and my stubbornness kicks in, and I dig in, and defend my corner, but ultimately the other person gives up in disgust and dismisses me as so stubborn.

Okay, but how did you get to this point in the first place? In my experience people rarely change their views, and if they do it doesn't happen overnight and certainly not as the result of one conversation. Point being, pick your battles with care. It's great that you've put a lot of thought into your beliefs, but you needn't feel like you're 'letting the side down' by refusing to engage with someone over them. If you're secure in your beliefs you shouldn't feel the need to defend them at every turn. Unless you really think there's something to be gained by engaging, it's generally better to just not bother.

On the other hand:

There's other areas of life, where I've made a decision to conduct myself a certain way, live a certain way, do a specific thing, not do a specific thing, and when that decision is made, I stick to it, stubbornly. I put a lot of thought and agonising into that decision, wasn't just made on a whim, and I'm not about to just change it because you're telling me I'm a stubborn fool. And the harder you push, the harder I dig in. You can change my mind, but pushing me into the corner is not the way.

This is kind of a general example, but I have a hard time seeing where this could be a problem unless said decision is actually doing harm to others. So I guess you could call this an example of stubbornness as virtue. Then again, if friends and acquaintances are getting on your case about this sort of thing more than just occasionally, you might want to ask yourself why. Is there some sort of insecurity there? Do they desperately need you to conform to their worldview? Or is there something about how you're expressing your conviction that's rubbing them the wrong way? Again, in a lot of cases I think you can avoid needless confrontation and hurt feelings by just not engaging. Shut down/deflect the issue as soon as it comes up, as other posters have suggested.
posted by Broseph at 7:26 PM on February 26, 2013


It sounds like you may need to just not have these types of conversations. But one thing I noticed: you said you say things like, 'Well, I'm not sure it's really like that' in these conversations. To me, that's basically saying that that person's "reality" or experience is wrong, which is crappy thing thing to do. Stop telling people that their experiences are invalid and people will stop thinking you are an asshole and/or stubborn.
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:49 PM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Next time, take a deep breath, and listen. Listen to what they have to say. If you have specific questions about what they're saying, ask them. If asked to state your point of view, take another deep breath and say "going into this conversation I wouldn't have agreed with you, but you've certainly given me some things to think about. How did you get so interested in [this topic]?"

At the end of the day, people can hold opinions contrary to yours, and it is highly possible that in most cases neither of you is right, which is to say there's grey area between the black and the white, and there's no reason for a conversation to solve the "who's right and who's wrong" question. Just get to know people by listening to their views.

And yes, the "Well, I'm not sure it's really like that" is a weak dismissal with nothing to back it up, which suggests that you're just dismissing their views (which they probably came to through just as arduous process as you did.) At the end of the day, be grateful that you're being exposed to alternate points of view rather than living in an echo chamber, and embrace the "we don't need to solve anything or convince anyone, I'm just happy to learn more about a point of view that doesn't align with my own" school of conversation.
posted by davejay at 8:26 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can choose not to argue about principals and beliefs. They aren't the sort of things that people generally change their minds about after an argument.

You can say you feel differently than they do, but that you'd like to learn more about their views and how they think about the issue. You can learn about new ideas from people without arguing about them.
posted by yohko at 8:43 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you one of those people who are right about things 95%+ of the time?

The people I've come across who feel they are usually right -- at least according to their internal dialogue -- are noticeably unsuccessful with their lives in general (personally, professional, financially, socially, physically, etc).

What I've tried to ask a couple of them -- if they could tolerate me long enough to hear what I was saying -- was that if they are almost always right, and other people are wrong or uninformed, shouldn't they have the perpetual upperhand? The world should truly be their oyster. Yet...it's not.

So are they actually "right" as often as they think? Or are they too busy being "right" about trivial matters while never tackling the bigger issues they face?
posted by 99percentfake at 8:53 PM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


When are you a pushover with no courage of your convictions and when are you the stubborn fool?

I'm rarely either. Agreeing to disagree, respecting that an intelligent, reasonable person may reach a different conclusion than me, is not being a pushover.

Being the stubborn fool is rarely the same as having the courage of one's convictions. In fact, when people are defensive and fighty about their point of view, it often is clear that they're seeking external validation for it. The world is not so black and white as you describe it.
posted by headnsouth at 9:00 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find that people make my stubbornness into a bad thing if I disagree with them and into a good thing if I agree with them or they admire it.

My stubbornness used to be remarked on a lot when I was younger (ageism! yay!) and felt the need to argue about many things. I'm now a lot more laissez-faire, mostly out of frustration/defeat and exhaustion, and people have stopped making comments about it; I've learned to pick my battles in order to stretch my emotional energy as far as I can. I think women also get a lot more flack in this department than men because women's assertiveness is not as valued as men's assertiveness.

If I find myself getting defensive and/or fighty, I disengage. I have a very strong anxiety response that makes me acutely uncomfortable when it kicks in, so I have strong motivation to gtfo when that happens. I will concede arguments in favour of my mental health, often by switching to non-committal statements (I see, uh huh, OK, yeah) and excusing myself as soon as possible. I stopped caring about being right because it was too exhausting for me to argue all the time with equally stubborn people.
posted by buteo at 10:36 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great comments so far. I just wanted to say I'm definitely not one of those people who think they're right all the time, I'm definitely not one who think being right trumps all other concerns. I'd much rather be liked than be right. I'd much rather just skip correcting someone's insane ideas about a subject, if I know an argument about it will cause upset, and the issue doesn't much matter (or doesn't matter to me). I've never felt that need, and I do try really hard to pick my battles. Intense debates do make me pretty anxious/stressed.

I like the point that you really need to consider who you're talking to, and how much you value their opinion. A close friend who has my trust and respect, is going to have a lot more leeway in telling me things maybe I don't want to hear, in telling me things where I'm likely to dig my heels in and be stubborn about my position. There's that trust in their judgement and their knowledge of me, vs a random stranger who tells me I'm an asshole for wanting gay marriage.

Empathy I agree, is so so important. I have a dear friend who is a homosexual, gun-toting, Republican, Chik-fil-a loving, Obama hating man (all of which the opposite of my beliefs). But I don't focus on that, I focus on what I like about him, and there's a great deal of him to like. From time to time we try to understand each other's opposite views, but it always stays respectful. - "At the end of the day, be grateful that you're being exposed to alternate points of view rather than living in an echo chamber, and embrace the "we don't need to solve anything or convince anyone, I'm just happy to learn more about a point of view that doesn't align with my own" school of conversation." Coudln't have said it better myself.

"Less looking out for your prior-formed conclusions, and more looking out for your own interests." - I like this a lot. I hate to think I've become so old that all my opinions have become crystalised, set in stone, held at the expense of all other concerns.

I'm thinking maybe my stubbornness is good or bad depending on who I'm talking to...
posted by Elfasi at 1:34 AM on February 27, 2013


A random stranger calls you an ass for wanting gay marriage? What, so they yell this at you on the street? Why would a random stranger ever get far enough in this interaction to call you stubborn?
posted by tel3path at 2:01 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was just a random example, but such people are frequently stumbled across on the Internet, in chat rooms, forums etc, rather than street corners. It's good to know how much of this to dismiss.
posted by Elfasi at 2:46 AM on February 27, 2013


You mean someone is wrong on the internet? I usually look away for a moment, grumble to myself, maybe curse a little if they're really extremely wrong. Then I turn back and close the window and go about my day.
posted by anaelith at 2:57 AM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you may have a blind spot around your own stubbornness that people are pointing out. You should ask the people who said this to you what specific examples they were thinking about, and listen to what they say VERY carefully.

You are likely not stubborn in every situation, but stubborn in a few situations that are prompting this response.
posted by carolinaherrera at 4:48 AM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I came across a quote in the 80/20 Principle, there attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but I think you may like to consider it at those points where you feel the need to push on a certain point:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
posted by whatzit at 10:10 AM on February 27, 2013


I put a lot of thought and agonising into that decision, wasn't just made on a whim, and I'm not about to just change it because you're telling me I'm a stubborn fool. And the harder you push, the harder I dig in. You can change my mind, but pushing me into the corner is not the way.

You want to know something? That decision you spent all that time "agonizing" over that you are determined never to give up probably isn't that important or that big of a deal. There are a few things it is worth being like this for, but for most things, it isn't.

It's likely you get called out for being "stubborn" because you lack a proper sense of proportion and priorities.
posted by deanc at 11:43 AM on February 27, 2013


I'm not about to just change it because you're telling me I'm a stubborn fool.

Y'know, we can still go ahead with our lives even without everybody agreeing on everything. I've worked on using the attitude that says "okay, you've come to that conclusion, but I've come to this one." Sometimes I'll be up for discussing the differences, sometime I'm not.

There's something in your need to constantly defend your decisions against all contradiction that I recognize in myself. For me it seems connected to an experience of not having my wishes, preferences, and feelings respected. I'm fixing that in myself by assertive acceptance: I accept who I am and can calmly and say what I believe. Others can disagree with me, and that's all right, and we can go on with our lives without figuring out who's correct. (I can also accept others as they are, imperfections included.)

Can you imagine yourself, when these conflicts arise, saying "We're not going to discuss this now.", saying it either out loud, or just to yourself? It is an option.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:18 PM on March 4, 2013


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