Do you always have to have the last word in an argument? Do you know someone who does?
Echo, a mountain nymph in Greek mythology, had to have the last word in everything, and it was her undoing.
Echo was beautiful with a musical voice. People enjoyed hearing her talk. Eventually, this went to her head, and Echo took too much pleasure in having the last word in both arguments and normal conversations.
Greek mythology has two separate stories about how Echo’s unique ability to dominate a conversation became a curse that destroyed her.
In one story, Echo was a pawn, and in the other, she was a hero.
In the first version, Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus, hired her to distract his wife while he engaged in one of his numerous affairs. Zeus’ wife Hera figured out what Echo was doing and punished her.
In the alternate version, Echo learned that Hera sought to wreak vengeance on the nymphs for the infidelities she believed Zeus had committed with many of them. Echo used her speech to distract Hera until the other nymphs escaped.
Both versions led to the same consequence.
“Because you’ve cheated me,” Hera said, “you forfeit the use of your tongue except to reply. You’ll keep your power to speak the last word, but will never know the relief of speaking the first.”
Hera doomed Echo to repeat forever the last words spoken to her.
Echo felt the sting of this especially when she met and fell in love with Narcissus.
When Narcissus exclaimed in disgust, “I should rather die than let you have me,” all Echo could reply with was a pitiful plea of “Have me.”
After Narcissus broke her heart, Echo wasted away until nothing remained of her but her voice, which continued to haunt caves and mountain cliffs.
The Greeks believed when they called out and heard a reply, it was Echo speaking to them. (Hence the origin of the word echo in our language for when sound reflects back to us.)
Whether Echo had a good reason for it or not, needing to always have the last word doomed her to a sad life. It may not destroy our lives, but it can certainly punch some holes in our relationships. And if we’re not the person who always needs to have the last word but we know someone who does, it’s important to know how to deal with it.
I’m a person who always needs to have the last word. If you’re like me, here’s what I’ve found helps.
Look back at when it started.
I’m very different from a person I was close to growing up. I’m a quiet introvert. He’s a charismatic extrovert. I have a dry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. He has a sarcastic, have-the-room-in-stitches-and-hanging-off-his-every-word sense of humor. I’m like the china cup, and he’s like the bull.
When we’d argue, he won by strength of personality alone. He’d talk over me and mock every logical argument I made. I never felt like I won a single disagreement.
As an adult, this translated into me wanting to have the last word in every argument because, subconsciously, I felt like that meant I was heard and respected.
The first step for me toward letting other people sometimes have the last word was recognizing that not everyone was like what I’d experienced. Other people would listen to me and respect my different opinion even if I didn’t have the last word.
Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of?”
As crazy as this might sound at first, I figured out one of the reasons I seek to have the last word is a control issue. I was afraid that if I didn’t have the last word, I was giving up all control of the situation, and that meant all the horrible possibilities I’d imagined were going to come true. Flawed logic, I know.
But if you find you need to control an argument or win an argument, ask yourself what you’re afraid will happen if you lose the argument. Express that to the person you’re arguing with.
If you’re not someone who needs the last word, but you need to deal with someone who is, here are my tips from the other side.
Realize that they probably just want to know that you hear them and respect their opinion. They want to know that you’ll consider their side rather than just walking all over them because you think you know better.
Pick a time when you’re not fighting to talk to them about it. They might not even know they always try to have the last word.
Accept that having the last word doesn’t really mean anything. They didn’t win the argument simply because they had the last word, so don’t let it get under your skin. Be the bigger person.
Give them the last word gracefully. Sometimes you’re going to get tired of arguing. The quickest way to appease a “last worder” is to ask something like “Is there anything else you want to add?”
Don’t assume that someone needs to have the last word just because they win most of the arguments/finish most arguments. Sometimes I’m not actually trying to get in the last word. Sometimes I just see a flaw in the argument just made and want to address it. Having the last word and needing to have the last word are not the same thing. Don’t be too quick to judge someone.
Do you feel the need to always have the last word in an argument? Do you know someone else who does? How do you handle it?
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