Are you getting a return on your investment?

“I don’t understand why we have to be so judgmental about those who choose to have cosmetic surgery,” I posted to Facebook after watching the Oscars. Little did I know that this would be a topic that many people had an opinion about! In fact, people apparently have very strong opinions about cosmetic surgery – most of them negative. The intent of my post wasn’t necessarily to advocate going under the knife with reckless abandon; rather, it was to prompt thought about how many of us preach non-judgment, but when it comes to celebrities, we feel completely at liberty to trash them – their character, their appearance, and the quality of their work.

In the course of the discussion that ensued after my post, an acquaintance of mine stated his opposition to cosmetic surgery quite vehemently – and viciously. His argument was that cosmetic surgery was a bad example for others and that it doesn’t make you happy. Taking the bait from someone who was obviously grumpy in the first place, I replied that we do not know if cosmetic surgery made the celeb happy or not – perhaps it did, and perhaps it didn’t. But if it did, why should we judge? Soon, I felt agitated. I turned it into a much deeper philosophical discussion about how being judgmental does more harm to the judger than the person being judged. At one point I asked my friend to “Consider that judging others actually impacts you much more negatively than it does the other person,” to which he replied, “no thank you. I’m content with my view.”

Although I claimed that I was not trying to change his view, I realized in this moment that I really was trying to change his view. I wanted so badly for him to see that his view actually didn’t work and was contradictory to his professed beliefs. This acquaintance is particularly loud and left-wing. He considers himself a political activist and advocate for equal rights and gay marriage. I was stewing that he could be so pig-headed! I could not understand why someone with reasonable intelligence could not understand, nay, was even unwilling to consider, an alternate point of view.

I even found myself thinking of Gandhi and his oft-quoted request that we “be the change” we want to see in the world. If you want to live in a world without judgment and intolerance, then stop being judgmental and intolerant! It didn’t seem like rocket science to me. And, I still hold to this point of view. What struck me, however, was that although the argument had ended hours before, I had never left it. I was still very much participating in the argument in my head.

After realizing I was spending a ridiculous amount of time wondering about this topic and this person, I had a thought that stopped me dead in my tracks: What if he does accept your point of view? What if he were to say, “Okay, Jeremy! You’re right. If cosmetic surgery makes someone feel better, then they should have it. You’re right. I’m wrong.” What would happen? What would change? I realized that nothing would happen. Nothing would change. I’d get to make another tally mark on my Facebook Argument Wins board. Will his changed mind impact anyone else? Probably not. In fact, I am pretty sure that it wouldn’t make any difference whatsoever if he changed his mind.

Why was it that I put so much energy into wanting him to agree with me? He clearly wasn’t interested in seeing an alternate point of view – he even said as much. Yet I somehow had a flawed calculation that if I were to invest my energy and “coaching expertise”, it would make a difference.There are many times where arguing and advocating for something that one believes in is appropriate, and even important. However, I had an awareness after this incident that not everyone is worth the investment of my energy. Putting it in frank business terms, there was simply no possibility of a return on my investment! Even if I had prevailed in my argument and he had agreed with me, there still would not have been any return. What a foolish investment!

It’s important to share knowledge with others. And it’s even more important to learn when to shut up. The Bible refers to this concept in its admonishment to not “cast pearls before swine”. In simpler terms, don’t tell people things that they cannot, or are not willing to hear. There are plenty of people looking for skilled coaches and counselors to offer the best tools and tips for thriving in life, and the professionals who provide this personalized service are compensated well. As a professional in this field, then, why would I demand someone take my free services? To him, my opinion was just a bunch of distracting noise – not unlike the parents and teachers as depicted in the Peanuts cartoons. I devoted a disproportionate amount of energy into changing his view – when it would have made absolutely no difference at all.

The next time you’re tempted to give advice, persuade, or even force someone into seeing your point of view, ask: Will changing this person’s point of view yield a satisfactory return on my investment? Trust your gut and listen for the answer – if the answer is no, it’s time to reverse course and invest somewhere else.

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