It seems rare nowadays to disagree with someone without it descending into sweeping labels and name calling.
Do you ever miss having grown up conversations about complex issues?
Jeremy Scahill observed that through his work at the Intercept he had been called a Trump Apologist by some people, and a Communist Sympathiser by others. He had successfully provoked all sides.
In many ways, once you dig beneath those simplistic assessments, you find something that is probably quite reassuring, especially for a news organisation. And it was an anticipated by-product of their vision; to shine light on injustice and political hypocrisy wherever they found it. To be seen as biased by everyone is probably no bad thing when weighing it against a vision like that.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
We all see things through our own lens. We might view the very same information, situation, or content as another person, and interpret its meaning in the opposite way to them. How we view, sense, and experience the world is completely different from one person to the next.
Cognitive Dissonance and Confirmation Bias
Cognitive dissonance is the deep discomfort we experience when our knowledge and experience of the world is in conflict with something that challenges what we believe we know to be true.
Confirmation bias feeds this. It provides us with the comfort of absorbing only information which soothes the internal dissonance we experience.
We must be aware of how cognitive dissonance influences us in our everyday lives. How willing are we to hold conflicting ideas, and allow them to sit in our minds without trying to mould the world around us to fit one side?
Often we don’t want what we believe to be questioned or shown to be wrong. The more it is aggressively challenged, the more militantly we might defend our position, however irrational and crazy that might start to get. It becomes more about defending pride than arguing about an idea. And this is an integral thing to understand if we’re going to make the ground more fertile for healthy disagreement again.
Observe yourself. Watch and listen to how you disagree with others. Set boundaries in your mind over which you agree not to cross.
Shared Values, Different Beliefs
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” – James Baldwin
Many of us are divided by our beliefs, despite the fact that we hold similar core values. It is dogmatic beliefs that blind us to our commonalities.
How You Listen
Listening is a discipline, and it’s hard work. It’s not something that happens just by virtue of the fact that the sound enters our ears.
Conflict is an Open Door
Through a little bit of grace (giving something that the other person doesn’t necessarily deserve in your view), and responsibility (in other words acknowledging your own part in whatever has gone on), you will lay fertile ground for more transformative encounters with people.
Model the Role
We look to others to show us the right way to act, speak, or think. And we pick certain people to follow, depending on the situation, and how their way of being resonates with our own set of values and beliefs. We follow and we are followed.
Laugh with others. Laugh at yourself. Acknowledge the absurdities in the world around you with a light heart and gentle touch. Humour is like glue which binds us together. It helps us see ourselves in healthier ways, and it enables us to hold our own self-conceptions and sense of identity more lightly.
When we stop taking ourselves so seriously, we can find humour in our conflicts, and break down those barriers which seem so rigid.
Disagreements are part of being human. Conflict and friction are natural parts of any relationship and political situation (ie anywhere there are two or more people gathered). But we have got really bad at approaching it in healthy ways. We are too quick to dismiss people and extinguish relationships.
Name calling, labelling, and aggressive responses to other people are the by products of fear and insecurity.
When we struggle to accept ourselves, we focus outwards and throw mud at others. It’s up to us as individuals to do what we have in our power to do. Not to point fingers and say ‘they started it’. But to look within and say ‘I’m finishing it’.
Over to You
Do you feel able to disagree with other people in a healthy way which keeps you connected? Have you ever lost a relationship because you couldn’t see eye to eye on an idea or belief? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.