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  • Christine Silk

Give the Devil His Due . . . and avoid being a loser

Updated: Apr 2

One way to spot those with a loser-mentality is to see whether they are capable of giving the devil his due. If they cannot, they have a loser mentality. A loser mentality is an un-productive -- even harmful -- way of looking at the world that will hold you back from fulfilling your potential.

What does it mean to give the devil his due? It’s another way of saying: Give credit where credit is due, no matter how reprehensible the recipient is. In western lore, nobody is more reprehensible than the devil, and yet even he deserves acknowledgment for what he does right.

Think of someone you really dislike – hate, even. Can you name one good thing that they excel at, one thing they’ve done right? Would you be willing to give them credit for it in public? (You can be cute and say “they excel at being the worst person in the world” but you know this is not what I’m talking about.)

Let’s say a divorced couple is fighting about their only daughter’s desire to quit school and train for the Olympics. The mother is against it, the father is for it. When the mother complains to her friends, she recounts all negative things about the father: why he is so dead-wrong, plus all the other stupid decisions he has made over the past twenty years that prove she is the more sensible parent. The one thing she omits is the fact that that in his youth, the father had qualified for an international ski team, so he knows firsthand what it takes to become an elite athlete.

What is happening here is that the complainer (the mom) refuses to credit her enemy. That ends up hurting her. How?

1. When you refuse to give credit where credit is due, other people eventually find out the truth. When they do, you look as if you withheld crucial information, and that your true goal isn’t what you say it is. In the case of the mother, if her friends find out about that the ex-husband qualified for an international ski team, it’ll make the mother look petty and not really interested in her daughter’s welfare.

2. If you cannot give someone else credit who deserves it, why should you get credit when you deserve it? Refusal to face up to reality eventually catches up to you.

Now let’s look at the benefits of giving the devil his due.

1. You come across as more credible, trustworthy, in command of facts and logic, and your disagreements will be taken more seriously. Imagine if the mother said to her friends: “My ex used to be an elite skier, and he knows better than I do what it takes to get to that level. Still, here is why I think he’s wrong when it comes to our daughter.”

2. You escape the dangerous delusion that a person is either all-good or all-bad. This delusion is what mental health professionals call “splitting”: The person whom you like is all-good and flawless, the person you dislike is all-bad and has no redeeming qualities. The reason I call this a dangerous delusion is, we’re all a mixture of good and bad. Ignoring that means that you ignore key pieces of information that could help you and/or save you from disaster. Here is why it’s dangerous: A person whom you like – and regard as all-good -- may be sending up red flags that they’re about to do something to hurt you. But if you see them as all-good, you won’t see the red flags. The person whom you dislike – the one you see as all-bad and have vowed never to talk to again -- may be able to help you or your loved one out of a difficult situation. But if you can’t see that, you’re missing an opportunity.

I once got into a conversation with a female acquaintance I’ll call Bertha who was ragging on and on about her ex-friend Lottie. Their friendship had ended bitterly, and Bertha remembered every nasty detail. In her view, no-one on earth was as horrible as Lottie. I knew both women from the days when they had been friends, so I asked Bertha: “Can you say one good thing about Lottie?” Bertha paused, then snapped: “No, I can’t. There are no good things about her.” First, that was untrue – I knew from experience that Lottie had many good qualities. Second, it made Bertha look bad because she is admitting that she became friends with someone who had no redeeming qualities. Third, Bertha’s reaction is a tell that she is in the throes of an emotional tantrum, and she comes across as having a stingy, loser mentality.

People like Bertha think that giving compliments is a zero-sum game. Acknowledging that your arch-enemy is simply better than you are at, say, playing the piano doesn’t mean you’re now scum-of-the-earth and your arch-enemy is headed for canonization into sainthood. It simply means she is a better piano player, period. Admitting that fact out loud is not going to kill anyone.

Giving credit where it is due (especially if you despise the person) can go a long way towards resolving disagreement and putting you in tune with reality. For example, let’s go back to the divorced couple fighting over their daughter’s future. Suppose the mother says to her ex-husband: “You are an expert in what it is like to be an elite athlete. I am an expert in what it is like to be a teenaged girl with a talent for science, which is also a talent that our daughter has. We both want what is best for her. Let’s see if we can brainstorm some options.”

Notice that the mother truthfully points out expertise on both ends. This puts her and her ex-husband on a mutual footing – they each have insights into their daughter, and they share the same goal of finding what is best for her.

The point here is not to invent areas of expertise that don’t exist, or to claim something that isn’t true. The point is to realistically acknowledge the strengths that each party brings to the table. That’ll help break the deadlock, and help the daughter with making a good choice.

I want to get back to the link between the loser mentality and the refusal to give credit where credit is due. Elite athlete and Navy SEAL David Goggins once said: “You’ll never meet a hater doing better than you.” He means that the people throwing shade at you are not those who have achieved more than you have. They’re either on your level or -- more likely -- below it.

I’ve seen this play out time and time again. Here’s an example. Alfie constantly criticizes his acquaintance Benny’s boring diet, “too-skinny” physique, obsession with exercise, “workaholic” 10-hour days at the office, and Benny’s “uptight” refusal to vape or drink. How surprised would you be to learn that Alfie is out-of-shape, gets winded climbing a flight of stairs, and clocks in the bare minimum time at work so he can party with friends? It’s a free world, and both Alfie and Benny have the right to pursue opposite lifestyles. But why the need to complain, then? If Alfie is really content with his own choices, Benny’s choices should not matter. And it is interesting to note that Benny doesn’t complain about Alfie. Why should he?

There is another lesson here. When criticism comes your way, you can pay attention to more than just the sting in the words. Ask yourself whether the person who is criticizing you is someone who has special insight into the issue, some sort of expertise or talent that makes them worth paying attention to. One useful strategy is to take advice only from people who have achieved the outcome you want, or from people who can tell you how to avoid a bad outcome they’ve personally experienced. Both types of people deserve credit for their firsthand knowledge, and are worth paying attention to.

The moral is clear: Winners give credit where credit is due, even if it means giving credit to one’s mortal enemy. Be a winner. Give credit, even to the devil himself is the recipient of that credit.

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