Don’t hate me because I’m arguing with you

Posted on June 20, 2010


Cow Fighting

Last post relating to Abby Sunderland, I promise.  And really, it’s not about Abby.  It’s about me.  And you.

If you’ve been following the story, teenager Abby Sunderland set out to circumnavigate the globe via sailboat nonstop.  Equipment malfunctions de-railed the nonstop aspect of the trip, but Abby continued on her voyage until storms in the Indian Ocean snapped her mast.  She has been rescued.  In the meantime, Abby and her parents have been either lauded for being brave and adventurous (Abby), and modern/flexible (parents) OR they have been excoriated for being reckless attention seekers (both Abby and parents).  The two sides occasionally took breaks from praising or criticizing Abby and parents to take pot shots at each other for being idiots or foolish or cowardly.

In fact my husband and I came down on opposite sides of the debate.  Which made me pause in my own bashing of the other side to consider – why on earth would an otherwise reasonable person disagree with me???

Well I think there are 2 reasons:

  1. The other person/side wears different glasses than you.  In other words, they see things differently.  While I saw the issue in terms of self determination and courage and following your heart, he saw it in terms of risk – not just risk to self but also risk and expense to others caused by the adventure, an aspect I had not considered.  And, honestly, while it sounds heroic and adventurous and brilliant to embark on this attempt – if I were Abby’s mother and something terrible had happened, would I ever be able to console myself with the beautiful mental image I had painted  – or would it simply seem like a foolish and empty waste of talent, time and resources?  I now think both views are legitimate.
  2. The other person is defending the position that supports their life.   In this situation people who believe that their life is or should be adventurous and free will passionately defend others’ right to live in the same manner and look down on those who want to minimize risk and live in a predictable and safe manner.  Those who believe they have a responsibility to manage risk in their lives (especially if they have children) and minimize their burden on others will passionately advocate  for others doing the same.  So when tempers flare it’s because it feels like OUR lives are being judged and attacked and not some stranger’s actions.

So this made me think – perhaps I should stop hating the people who disagree with me – or thinking they’re complete idiots.  (I can wait to pull out the ‘idiot’ label until they’ve truly proven themselves)  Instead of going straight to Code Imbecile, I can try:

  • Asking questions first. Find out why on earth the other person feels the way they do.  Try to imagine how this opinion could be completely reasonable, given their situation, their circumstances, and their experiences.
  • Validating their position.  When I said, “That’s a fact I hadn’t considered before,” my discussion with dear husband became much more civilized.
  • Recognizing what’s driving my own emotional response.  Am I having a strong emotional response?  Why?  What’s making me feel so strongly about the issue?  What in my own history and relationships and actions makes my position reasonable for me?
  • Looking for areas of agreement or shared values.  Is there ANYTHING that we can agree on?  Acknowledge any areas of agreement.
  • Agreeing to disagree.  In the end you may not be able to agree.  But you can be civil nonetheless.  No need to call someone an idiot – especially if they know where you sleep.  🙂

I think the same principles can help us see any divisive issue with a new eye. The more you try to imagine the other side as reasonable, the less emotional you will feel about all these hot button issues. Eventually the noise will roll over you, like water off a duck’s back.

And maybe, if we can see the other perspective (even if we don’t agree with it), the disagreeing won’t feel so bad.

What do YOU think?  How do you handle people who strongly disagree with you on hot button issues? Share!

thanks, Ami

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photo by via flickr

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