Dear Grak,

I read your advice to Sally, and I was really eager to put it into practice. Unfortunately, those methods don’t seem to be working for me. Worse still, I’m not exactly a creative type of person, so it’s hard for me to come up with new ideas to gain control in an argument. Do you have any other tips I could try?

– Unimaginative Umberto

Dear Umby,

Do you mind if I call you Umby? I didn’t think so.

Well Umby, one sure-fire way I’ve found to gain control in an argument is to repeat things. Repeatedly. See what I just did there? This paragraph already has you hooked, doesn’t it? And because I’ve practiced it so much, that kind of thing just comes naturally to me.

Anyway, while I’m sure you’ve probably heard this tip before from other argument specialists, that’s because it’s so useful. It’s an indispensable tool for getting past many of the obstacles you’ll run into during a conversation. Did you space out for a second? Was your opponent’s point too good? Do you need to fill time so it sounds like you have a valid point? Just start repeating something you said. Or better yet, start repeating something they said as though you can’t believe they would say such a thing. Here’s an example:

I cut you off just to repeat myself? That’s a joke! I cut you off just to repeat myself? I can’t believe you would say something like that! It’s so stupid! You can’t even argue properly so you resort to saying that I cut you off just to repeat myself! Give me a break!”

As you’ll notice, I never actually said anything of value there. But I did kill time while also sneaking in a nice dig. Plus, if I had been in danger of losing the argument, this statement would have distracted my opponent long enough for me to change the subject. Talk about skillful maneuvering.

– Grak

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Dear Grak,

I’m new to college and having a really hard time making friends. I think it might have something to do with my arguing skills. You see, I get in a lot of arguments, but they often end badly–with me losing. I figured you might be able to give me some advice that’ll help me to win the arguments … and some friends while I’m at it.

– Sullen Sally

Dear Sally,

Your letter touched my heart … especially your ellipsis at the end … I love those things … they’re like little dots of tears …

Anyway, to answer your question, the key to mastering the art of arguing can be summed up in one simple word: control. Without control you’ll lose, but with control, you can spout gibberish and walk away a winner.

So seek to have control–not only over your opponent, but over everything in your line of sight. Is a cat walking by? Pick it up and wave it around as though it were a part of your gesturing. Arguing over a nice meal? Reach over and grab something off your opponent’s plate. Don’t worry about eating the thing; it’s the thought that counts. Is there air in the room? Grasp for it in big sweeping motions.

Most importantly, don’t be afraid to get creative. I’ve found that the more unusual my methods are, the more they work.

And of course, practice, practice, practice. Before long, people will be so used to you winning arguments that they’ll just shut up and cede defeat the instant they see you approaching.

– Grak

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“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.”

—– Francis Bacon

“Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.”

—– Sholem Asch

Dear Grak,

Have you ever planned to meet someone at a restaurant, but you wound up at the wrong place without realizing it? That happened to me the other night when I was supposed to meet my boyfriend for dinner. And it got me thinking, could this be a sign that I subconsciously don’t want to be with him? What if my mind knows he’s wrong for me, so it’s trying to break us up? Argh! Why does life have to be so difficult?!

– Confused in Constantinople

Dear Confused,

Dr. Sigmund Freud once said, “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.” Is it possible that you’re running from responsibility in life? Is it too difficult to make the hard choice of breaking up with him, so you’re relying on your subconscious to do it for you? Those are important questions to ask yourself if you hope to get to the bottom of this one.

Of course, Freud wasn’t always right. He also said, “Time spent with cats is never wasted.” So, I’d take what he says with a grain of salt. After all, you might have just had a concussion or a stroke. Or maybe you’re suffering from dementia. If I were you, I’d start searching WebMD for all possible symptoms you think you might have. If that doesn’t work, ask your friends if they have any idea what might be wrong with you. While this might not help with the issue in question, it should at least weed out the good friends from the bad ones.

Good luck!

– Grak

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“When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing.”

—– Enrique Jardiel Poncela

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

—– Lord Byron

Dear Grak,

I’ve been arguing with my little brother for nearly five days now, and I was hoping you might be able to settle the dispute. Is it better to be eaten by a crocodile or a shark? He said shark, because they could just bite your head off and be done with it. But I told him that rarely happens, and they’ll usually bite a portion of your body off, causing you to die from blood loss, whereas a croc will drown you, which, all things considered, is a much better way to go if you ask me. Anyway, I hope you can give us a definitive answer, because I’ve got my SATs in a couple of days and I’d like to finally get some sleep.

– Arguing in Arkansas

Dear Arg,

Oh boy, I get this one all the time. I’m glad I finally have the chance to record my answer.

In reality, it doesn’t whittle down as easily as you had hoped. If it were just a matter of physical pain, then you’d be right: crocodile, all the way. But you have to take other factors into account, such as emotional pain, psychological pain, and increased insurance premiums. Sure, you’ll be dead, but your surviving family members will most likely face a 20% increase in their monthly payments if you’re eaten by a crocodile. This means that the crocodile keeps hurting your loved ones even after you’re gone. And you can’t argue with a lasting pain like that. So, I have to side with your little brother and say that being eaten by a shark is the better way to go, hands down.

– Grak

What would you like to ask Grak? Submit your questions here.

“Writer’s block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite.”

—– Terri Guillemets

Dear Grak,

I’m doing a history report on Mikhail Gorbachev for my 9th grade history class, but it feels like it’s missing something. I think what it’s lacking is a personal touch. I have all the details from his public life, but very little about his personal life. I was wondering, since you know so much about global politics, would you be able to share any insight with me?

– Stuck on School in Schenectady

Dear Stucko,

Of course I can help! I’m glad you asked!

As it so happens, the Gorbachevs and I go way back. Mikhail’s younger brother, Frank, and I were in biology together in high school. As a result, we became fast friends, and I spent many an afternoon at their house completing homework assignments with him. Of course, as friends tend to do, we would talk a great deal about life and family and friends. He often spoke of his concern that he was living in Mikhail’s shadow, and how he wanted to break out and make a name for himself.

Alas, this was never to be. Mikhail went on to become a successful chemist, while Frank struggled in his career as an architect. Still, he’s had no regrets and feels that his life was well-lived.

Out of curiosity, why were they brought up in history class? Seems like you should be spending your time on more important figures.

– Grak

What would you like to ask Grak? Submit your questions here.