I'm not much for arguments, even when the stakes are high. I often take the long view and allow my opponent to seize the short term satisfaction of "beating" me. That might lead you to conclude I have no convictions or lack a spine. Okay, I'll give you that. (See what I did there?) It is a view on life that has served me well over the years. I first adopted it in 1994 while at the Pentagon. I have to relearn it now and then, but over the decades, it has become a natural response to confrontation. You might consider the technique. Or you might not.
— James Albright
In 1994 I was a Program Element Officer (PEM) for VIP aircraft at Headquarters Air Force (HQ USAF) at the Pentagon (Five-Sided Puzzle Palace). A PEM is the person who controls all funding for a program element, in my case, all VIP aircraft in the Air Force. Our office had ten officers, most of whom were PEMs for various weapon systems. Of the ten officers, the boss was a colonel, two of us were lieutenant colonels, and the rest were majors and captains. Of us two lieutenant colonels, Earl outranked me by a month. He often told me, "you can call me sir," and I dutifully called him "Earl." He called me "Bubba" but he called everyone Bubba.
"Proper summertime dress around here is short sleeves and a tie, Bubba." Earl was dressed this way and I lacked the tie.
"The regulation says the tie is an option, Earl."
"Not in our office, Bubba. Better not let the boss see you like this."
"Boss has seen me and didn't say anything."
"Well, Bubba, you look stupid."
For every answer I had, Earl had a follow up taunt. The junior officers, all wearing ties, watched with interest. I suspected they didn't want to wear the tie either. This went on for a few days and I was starting to get agitated by it all. Earl was wasting my time and seemed to enjoy browbeating me in front of the junior officers. It wasn't just the short sleeves and tie issue, there was hardly a subject Earl didn't have an opinion on and he just assumed I needed to hear that opinion. I vented my frustration to a friend in a different office. "Why do you care what Earl thinks? You are both lieutenant colonels, he isn't your boss, and if he thinks you look stupid, so what?" That made a great deal of sense to my stoic sensibilities.
The next morning Earl spotted me as I walked into the office and was ready to reengage. "You are looking stupid as always, Bubba."
"Earl, you look very smart in your tie today. I guess I will have to be the one who looks stupid."
A few of the junior officers started laughing but stopped when Earl cast a stony frown in their direction. Earl stopped pestering me about ties and as a side benefit, he stopped confronting me about whatever waste of time he was interested in. I got selected for command and was gone from the Pentagon in a few months. I'm not sure what Earl is up to these days, but I bet he is still wearing a tie.
I was at an aviation conference this year at a session where the topic of electric airplanes came up. I was sitting with Tom, a colleague from my current flight department when a colleague from a former flight department — let's call him Fred — saw me and sat beside us. After introducing the two, we resumed our talk about electric airplanes.
"Electric vehicles are a sham," Fred said. "They are unsafe and are actually worse for the environment than fossil fuel based vehicles."
"I guess you don't like Tesla's," Tom said, knowing where this would lead us.
"Elon Musk is a jerk," Fred responded. "Can you believe he took over Twitter?"
I kept silent, knowing that any response would only encourage Fred's tirade. But Tom was looking for entertainment. "I guess you didn't know James has two Tesla cars and a Tesla solar roof."
Fred took the bait and started pelting me with objections to my choice of cars and solar panels. The cars, Fred said, actually took more energy to produce and operate than with a gasoline powered vehicle. The environmental impact of production and disposal of the batteries was monumental. The production of lithium for the batteries was enslaving thousands of poor across the world.
"I suppose all of that might be true, or it might not be," I said. "But I no longer pay two hundred dollars a month for gasoline."
"But what about when the sun isn't out? Or at night? What do you do then?"
"Even before we got the solar panels, operating the two Tesla's never cost us more than forty dollars a month."
"I read in the New York Times that the actual cost of running an electric car is the equivalent of paying twenty dollars a gallon."
"I guess my math might be wrong."
Fred was satisfied he had won the argument and excused himself. After he was gone, Tom looked at me and said, "Based on what I've read, everything Fred said was wrong. Why didn't you fight back?"
"Was anything I say going to change Fred's mind?"
"Probably not. But now he thinks he changed yours."
"Let him think what he wants. It's not my job to educate him."
You might argue that my title, "Win by losing," is off the mark. What have I won in these two examples? I think I won freedom from distraction and I got use of my time back from those who would steal it. In both cases, I noticed the protagonists were less willing to confront me on whatever topic was bothering them at the time. Some people argue for sport. I am not some people.