There was a recent argument among close friends involving disagreement about how to handle a bundle of intertwined situations that have come up. One friend ("John") alleged that I and others are behaving self-righteously. This bothers me, because we're all Christians of one sort or another, and among Christians, being "self-righteous" is considered a very very bad thing.

However, different people in the group just have different moral standards. John has "stricter standards" in some ways, but "less strict standards" in other ways. But John thinks that because others think they're innocent of wrongdoing, and don't think they're acting badly, they're self-righteous. And when others say that he's not doing the right thing, he thinks they're acting self-righteously.

The issue is that now John is convinced that others are self-righteous, it seems difficult to change his mind without just agreeing with him. It's kind of lose-lose situation and a conversation stopper, because any effort to explain that one isn't behaving badly will be taken as proof of one's self-righteousness.

It does seem to me that John's opinion of the others would need to change in order to maintain close friendship, given how seriously "self-righteousness" is taken in our subculture. But at this point, is there a discussion to be had, or is it better to give up? Does it need to be preceded by a meta-argument about the unfalsifiable illegitimacy of thinking others are self-righteous? Or should one stick to the actual points of disagreement?

  • Hey BetterthanKwora :) As I read your question, you are asking, how to make change the other persons wrong view to what you consider the right view. So given that, this would dip into the domain of manipulation, what we actually don't want to cover here. If I got your post wrong and you goal is more along the lines, "How to make John aware of his behavior without putting him into defense?" Try to make this more clear in your post. So as it is, I VTC'd this question. For what I wonder, if John is declaring anything opposing to his opinion as self-righteous, why care about his opinion at all? – dhein Dec 5 '19 at 7:40
  • I'm not asking how to change his mind, and my first question was actually whether I should even try to argue with him or let it go. Also, before the recent drama, John had not previously expressed this opinion of the others. So perhaps he just came to this view in the heat of the argument. And I think he is generally a quite rational, reasonable person. – Betterthan Kwora Dec 5 '19 at 8:26
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    But that would be off-topic aswell, as we don't want questions asking for "What should I do?" as that will lead to opinion based answers and is lacking a specific goal. Maybe check interpersonal.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic to get an idea of the way questions should be designed. And again, if you say you have a clear goal already mentioned, maybe edit your post and highlight it to avoid confusion. – dhein Dec 5 '19 at 8:37
  • Ah, I see, thanks. It'll be hard to make this on topic, so I've voted to delete. – Betterthan Kwora Dec 5 '19 at 8:47
  • Well, I offered you a way how to eventually make it on topic in my first comment. If that ofcause is not representing your actual intent, maybe drop by in our chat room or check out the sandbox on meta to ask others for help, how to get this in on-topic shape :) – dhein Dec 5 '19 at 10:33

I have had this kind of friend that holds one position no matter what. You can try and tell him he is wrong in a way he understand, but in the end if he doesn't change you have to decide whether you put up with him or not.

Note: update from comments so it is more clear my backing I had a friend that behaved this way in certain topic and I tried similar steps to the ones described. In the end I couldn't make him change his ways, but he understood that I wasn't happy talking about that topic so if he was about to bring it up I would just tell him and he would laugh it up. I also had a couple people that would resort to name calling in arguments and doing something like I describe stopped them in their tracks. They can say you are wrong about many things but not about asking not to use name calling. However take into account that the most combative kind of personalities won't care about anything you say and you may have to stop being his friend.

So I would start with something really simple, show him how illogically he is behaving. From the dictionary:

self-righteous adjective

having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior.

Ok, so you can see from that definition that your friend is the very definition of self-righoutness. He thinks he is right, and he doesn't hear anyone elses position. He doesn't stop to consider maybe he is wrong and he is being pretty combative and acting like no one knows better than him and basically he is better than the rest.

The first thing I would do is to tell him something like:

John, I am not sure if you are hearing yourself, but no matter what we say or try to explain you are calling everyone self-righteous, you don't even consider that you may be wrong and you don't give us space to have a dialog. The way you are doing it, is like calling us names, actually it is exactly that. I am sorry but you are being pretty self-righteous right now.

This is basically like putting a mirror to his face, he is calling eveyrone "ugly". You show him that he is doing what he says the others are doing. Based on the definition of the word he is using non stop, you state and enumerate in facts his behavior and then plain and simple you show him the conclusion, he is text-book self-righteous.

Even if he is super stuborn he has to stop and think to be able to contradict you. In the case of my friend he said "ok", but then went some other way to try to prove his point. Which your friend might do So instead of calling other people self-righteus he may start caling them something else.

So you try to stop him before he has time to think something else to fight you and tell him:

John we are all friends that care for each other, could we hold back the name calling and godly judgment? We are not god, we don't see and know everything. Please consider that maybe we are all here acting in good faith.

This accomplishes two things. First, you tell him he shouldn't use name calling. No one on earth could reasonably tell you that it is ok to insult others in a discussion. If they do tell you that is because they are being stuborn. But in that case they open the door for you to walk out and they can yell all they want, they know you are right. So basically you tell him an irrefutable truth: name calling is not conductive of healthy discussion.

Second, he is acting above everyone, like he knows everything. Only God knows everything, he believes in god, he won't like acting that way. In the case of my friend that believes himself to be very logical, I would show him the fault in his logic.

In the case of my friend I told him a general logic truth, something it was really hard to argue with, in your case quote something from the bible. Use his way of thinking to show him he is wrong. Like:

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Then try to drive the point home with a simple question that no one could argue with. The point of asking him questions that have only one posible answer, is to show him the contrast with the way he is acting.

Do you think that you are never wrong and 100% right? Isn't it possible that you are missing something?

At this point, it can happen that he realizes he is way out of line. He realizes he is wrong and he might apologize or stop or diminish his behavior.

If he:

  • Stops: Well you got what you needed. He may in the future fall into this behavior again. It is really hard to change bad habits, but you can repeat this same technique and since you have been already succesful he may realize he was wrong even before you have much to say.

  • Doesn't stop and starts to argue using the same arguments: Then you have to set limits. I mean some people are going to be stubborn no matter what, it doesn't mean you have to stop being friends, you just need to set boundaries and limits. Tell him something like:

John we can discuss anything you want, we can dissect someone's action and we can decide whether or not it was right to do that in that point. But we can not have a healthy discussion, a discussion that will lead us to grow as human beings and christians if we are calling each other names all the time just because someone else doesn't see things like you do.

And then you tell him the last thing, the ultimatum sort of thing.

If you can not stop yourself from insulting others while we are departing we can not have a discussion with you. If you are willing to have a healthy exchange and you will stop calling everyone self-righteous we can continue. Otherwise I am afraid we will have to agree to disagree and change the subject and/or disregard anything that you had to say about it.

And change the subject to something safer. I don't know how you guys handle these discussions but you could have some members of the group continue talking about the specifc thing separate from him, or just change completely.

The trick here is to never let it slide, if he starts with that again, you tell him the same, that is not healthy and you can not continue. Of course other members shouldn't insult him either. Also it is to make him see that this is not about being right or wrong, is about the name calling. That is always wrong.

  • He changes technique: Instead of calling you self-righteus, he calls you other names, or doesn't want to listen. You can spin a variation of what I said before. For instance if someone is always talking over you, you can't tell him your opinion. For example, this person kept interrupting me or raising his voice. So I would say:

I can not continue if you raise your voice.

And pressed on that, until he stopped or I would end the discussion telling him I can't not continue.

Or if he keeps talking over you like my friend (btw this conversations happened several times over different media so I used different techniques in the different transgressions). He said I would interrupt him, so I heard him out, taking note of the endless topics of his disertation (your friend could say Bob did X and John Did Z and on and on), so I could answer him afterwards, but in the meantime I took the time he was speaking non-stop.

So when I was finally able to talk, I took the time I was taking too. And not even after 10 seconds he was interrupting me already. At that moment I had hard data of his missbehavior so I told him and he laughted it up, but he took his agression down a notch because he realized he was wrong.

In the end If he doesn't stop this behavior, he will be ostracizing himself. You have to tell him every time that you can not continue in that line of talk and then change the subject. Eventually he will either change or he will leave.

If you don't want to be so confrontational all the time, you can let him talk and then just continue like he said nothing. If he says something about you ignoring him, you tell him he was again calling other people names and such contributions are not appreciated or taken into account.

Don't forget to apply the same rules to everyone, so if someone else starts the name calling, you do the same. So John doesn't feel it is unfairly treated.

As I said I have a friend that has this kind of extreme view and he doesn't hear anything other people has to say, he knows better. I have watched how he has damaged many of his relationships with other friends. I tried everything I have told you but it hasn't worked out to full extent. He wouldn't budge or he would change the subject. However we remained friends and he knows when to back out and he knows things I don't want to discuss and I can tell him openly to stop discussing certaint topics.

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    Hey Mykazuki, you are writing a lot of "I would do...." or "That should make him..." 's. Are these actually the actions/reactions, you had with that friend you mentioned at the top of your answer? As after the first paragraph you have written, everything else reads like hypothetical solutions that you think should work the way you write it and note reactions you would expect to get, rather than you have experienced such reactions your self in such situation. If it is in fact about the interaction with the mentioned friend, could you make this more clear in your answer? Thanks :) – dhein Dec 5 '19 at 7:46
  • @dhein how would you go about that? I did a similar thing with a friend, but it was on another topic that is why I wrote everything in "I would". To this day when he starts mentioning that thing I tell him "nooo" and he laughs. – Mykazuki Dec 5 '19 at 14:15
  • @dhein i added an introduccion at the begining of the question. Is it better this way? I am not sure how to change the "I would..." in the setenteces, since I didn't use those exact ones. – Mykazuki Dec 5 '19 at 14:31
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    Thats my point here, why don't you just present, what you in fact did in a similar situation, rather than suggesting what you might say in this situation. From my understanding that's the point of our backup policy. That people just talk about what they know they work, and others in a similar situation can derive from that what they would do. As I see it, the policy would be useless, if having been in a similar situation works like a entrance ticket to write down your opinions again. I might be misunderstanding that intend, tho. – dhein Dec 9 '19 at 6:36

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