When I criticize circumstances or a person who caused something or did something that is worsening something's or someone's current situation, people tell me stuff like "do it better yourself", "you do the same", etc. and just instantly kill the whole discussion. Most of the time I am aware that I do those mistakes too. But apparently me having done what I am criticizing is enough for people to not even discuss the problem with me or declare all of my arguments as invalid because "but you".

This isn't only the case when I am the one doing or having done the mistake I am criticizing. It is also the case if the person or institution who I am siding with in a discussion is doing or has done it.


Sometime ago, German media was criticizing that there were cases in Turkey where people were way too long in custody before being presented to a judge or even properly looking at the case. When I tried to talk with people around me about that, of them just argued "Well, that stuff also happens in Germany." and just stopped the discussion because of this empty phrase.

How do I deal with this? Whenever people use those killer arguments, I think to myself "well, that's true but that doesn't change the current situation at all. It just hinders progression." I don't know how to properly convey this thought of mine to people who seemingly don't want to discuss in a fruitful manner.

I want them to understand that those arguments aren't enough to stop the discussion. This is just an assumption, but I don't think that those people think they are souring the conversation. I feel like they are genuinely thinking that using arguments which fall under the category "but you" are arguments which have any validity. To me these "arguments" feel empty. I don't want to come over like I am better than them. I am not. If my attitude towards this problem is wrong, I would really like to hear why.

My primary goal is the situation's improvement. When I am criticizing someone, it isn't just for the sake of criticizing or being on a moral high ground. The most famous occurrence of this is when someone goes on and on about how bad something is but doesn't do anything to improve the situation himself.

  • 2
    Trying to force someone to have a conversation they don't want to have is rarely, if ever, going to work. It's perfectly okay for someone to state their disagreement or opinion without fostering a discussion. Are you sure this isn't what's happening?
    – Clay07g
    Oct 3 '18 at 3:27
  • That's probably what has happened in the specific example I provided. But I doubt that this is always the case whenever people use such an argument because I've also seen use of these kind of arguments while having a fruitful debate prior to it. I should ask myself more often if the other really wants to have the conversation if they aren't clearly stating it.
    – Limechime
    Oct 3 '18 at 11:51

They are trying to end the discussion because they don't want to have it.

When it comes to the personal example, you have to be very careful of being a hypocrite, because they are right, it does lessen your view if you yourself don't even believe them enough to have changed your own behavior. If you continue the behavior you are criticizing, why would someone listen to you.

As for the more global and political arguments, there are two options, either you know and expected them to make this argument, in which case you have evidence to dispute their claim and their point it moot. OR you are arguing from a less informed place then you re-frame and challenge. This is most definitely poor arguing skills and should be avoided, but if your opponent is not that great then it can work.

"Are you saying that our legal system is as broken as Turkeys?" "I think that is a bold leap, do you have evidence to back that claim up?"

Or even a complete change of frame

"Ok if I accept that might be the case, then what is your proposed solution?"

Whatever you do you are flipping it back on them to force them to defend their position. And failing that changing the argument to a solution, which you can then poke holes in down the track.

To be frank though, this is getting to the point of winning more than having meaningful conversation, and it already seems the other party is disinterested.

  • 1
    I don't want it to get to the point that is more about winning or losing. I really want to have a meaningful conversation. I just feel like it's unneccesary to mention another parties' mistakes if the conversation isn't on a personal level but more about global or political arguments. Knowing that the same problem exists somewhere else is important. But if this is the only link between both, the very existence of this problem somewhere else shouldn't be used as an argument.. Mentioning it won't improve any of the both problems if it isn't followed by ideas on how to improve the situation.
    – Limechime
    Oct 3 '18 at 0:07
  • It could be that I am just thinking too much into it and it's just that the other party isn't even interested in having that conversation. Maybe I should ask "How do I know if someone else is intersted in this conversation?".
    – Limechime
    Oct 3 '18 at 0:07
  • You are right that it is a cop out in terms of the discussion. But said cop out usually means either the other party isn't informed enough to challenge you, or they simply don't want to have the conversation. As someone who is good at arguing and enjoys doing it and winning, often I find that many people aren't on that same level, nor have the care to be and instead it is best for me to back off and drop it.
    – Negotiate
    Oct 3 '18 at 0:41

I'm reminded of these two idioms:

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

The pot calling the kettle black.

Both of which roughly equate to that you shouldn't be pointing out flaws in other people that you also have i.e. you're a hypocrite. I use this type of language to indicate to the speaker to empathy with the other party. If your solution is so simple, why haven't you done it yourself? It's very easy to criticize other people for not doing enough, but maybe what you propose isn't easy at all, which you would know if you did it yourself. An recent example on SO being overweight parent blaming their daughter's laziness for her weight problems. If losing weigh is so easy, why are the parents overweigh too?

Back to your original question, how do you continue the conversation when you encounter this argument of "you do it too?". Here are some suggestions:

  1. Acknowledge that you (or your country, your team, etc) have this problem too and look for common factors that would solve the problem.
  2. Refute the claim. It's possible that you don't have this problem and warrants some explanation of why the two situations are different.
  • I think that people should points out flaws even if you have them yourselves. Sometimes people might not even know that they have these flaws. It should be in a respectful way and ideally with tips on how to improve. Since the person telling you this still has the flaw himself/herself, even knowing what doesn't help at improving might be interesting. A small anecdote: In a video game I play with friends on a regular basis, I was doing a mistake which I didn't even know I was doing. Apparently, one of my friends was also doing this mistake and noticed it. He pointed it out to me.
    – Limechime
    Oct 3 '18 at 0:10
  • He didn't know how to improve himself but now that I know about it, I can think of ways myself. The thought of him being a hypocrite never crossed my mind. But at the end, this is just a videogame and not politics or something on a personal level. People might react differently about it if it's politics or something personal. To be honest, I don't know how I would react because it has never happened to me.
    – Limechime
    Oct 3 '18 at 0:14
  • @Limechime I think your situation is different from the OP's because your reaction is different or the OP's flaw is brought up in more disrespectful way. But either way the argument isn't meant stop the conversation, but in fact continue it. I find it hard to take a hypocrite seriously.
    – jcmack
    Oct 5 '18 at 15:55

If you're critiquing something that has no relation to you personally / that you didn't affect, I'd respond with "A movie critic doesn't have to be a director" or something of the likes of "So what?". You're not guilty of hypocrisy, they just want to shut the argument down for whatever reason they have. You can critique something that you can't do better, and that's for the better. If you're critiquing a mistake that YOU've made as well, the situation is different. In this case, you're guilty of hypocrisy, and they have the high ground (argument-wise).

As OP said:

I just feel like it's unnecessary to mention another parties' mistakes if the conversation isn't on a personal level but more about global or political arguments.

OP is right, and if they want to continue the argument, they should stand their ground with a simple "So what?", or with a saying similar to the one I gave.

  • Welcome to IPS! Please take a minute to read through How to Answer and How do I write a good answer?. We prefer answers on this site to include some explanation of why you're suggesting this course of action. While your logic may be correct, why do you think this will encourage discussion? Has this been your experience using this technique?
    – Em C
    Oct 5 '18 at 1:03
  • This will encourage discussion as it will force the other party to respond, to explain their logic. That in turn will give OP new arguments to rebut. Oct 5 '18 at 6:49
  • My experience would usually go like this: - Argument - Well the thing you support does the same, so you can't really say that - It may do that. So what? - What do you mean "So what"? It's hypocritical of you to criticise that thing then - No, not really. I hope my thing changes that as well. Plus, I don't have to be an expert to be able to judge it, I'm an outsider to this entire thing. Look, all I'm saying is Argument - I agree/I disagree Etc... Oct 5 '18 at 6:58

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