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The Art of Agreeing to Disagree

Updated: May 7, 2019

Author: Radonda Rowton, MAC, PLPC

I sat in a room at a car dealership not long ago, and while they were finishing up doing repairs on my car I observed a conversation between two gentlemen that I know that I won’t soon forget. Apparently, the two men were related, but their conversation had moved from one subject to the deadly subject of politics. It was obvious that they were on opposite sides of the conversation. Although the conversation started off pleasant, it didn't take long for the tones in their voices to escalate and I started to become concerned. Before they were finished, there was name calling, refusal to spend holidays together and finally one man stormed out leaving the other sitting there in fury.

I don’t ever, in my lifetime, remember when opinions have been more contentious than they are today. Whether it is politics, religion, or social issues, it seems that ready access to the internet and social media have primed people to be experts on subjects that they really know little about, and many people accept this misguided information as factual. People, even friends and family members, are “unfriending” each other from social media sites and refusing to spend holidays together due to differences in opinion. In many ways, it has become a “you are either for me, or against me” mentality that we have taken on when it comes to our opinions. I have had to ask myself how we as a society could have abandoned all consideration and etiquette for the sake of proving that our opinion is the only right one.

What is interesting is that many have forgotten that our nation was founded on diversity and differences of opinion. The fact is, there does not necessarily have to be a “right” or “wrong” on every issue. The idea that it is possible for people to agree to disagree has apparently become a lost concept in the world of communication. So how do we remain respectful of other’s opinions when they are in such direct opposition to what we may believe? Please allow me to suggest some tips that may be of benefit:

· Taking other people’s opinions personally stops the flow of communication. Everyone forms their opinions based on past experiences and understandings, and everyone, even family members have different perspectives. It does not mean your ideas are wrong, it just means that that theirs differ from yours. In order to keep the lines of communication open, we need to work on not becoming defensive because people think differently.

· Keeping our emotions in check. Not becoming angry because someone does not see things the same way we do is key to keeping the communication in a safe zone. Not only do people base their opinions on experiences, but people have different personalities and goals for life. Respectfully accepting another’s diverse views may say to them that you accept them as a person and isn’t it really all some people need as humans is to know that they are accepted instead of rejected?

· Accept the fact that we probably do not have the power to force another person to change their view. It is fine to discuss issues and share viewpoints, but if our goal is to get the other person to change their mind, we may be destined for disappointment. Some people like to debate issues and a truly open person may have the ability to take the other persons points into consideration, but the likelihood of expecting someone to change their viewpoint at that moment may not be realistic. Being open to one another’s viewpoints is key. If you go into a friendly debate with the idea that they are wrong and you are right, then that friendly debate probably will not end on good terms. Opinions are different, and everyone has one and since it is unlikely that there is not going to be a “great arbiter” to declare who is right and who is wrong, we may just have to walk away and just agree to disagree.

· Diversity is what makes life interesting, so why are we so afraid of it? It would be a boring world if everyone were just like me or you. With diversity comes diverse points of view…it’s inevitable. If we are so uncomfortable with a person’s viewpoint, could we at least try to expand our horizon and take the time to understand where that viewpoint is coming from instead of responding out of fear? We don’t have to agree, but we can respond respectfully. Do we really get to demand respect if we are not willing to give it? The truth is that our way may work for us, but until the other person sees the payoff for it, they may not feel it’s appropriate for them. But what if they are wrong and I am right? Life is full of lessons, stepping back and allowing a person to learn at their own pace can actually be a gift.

· Finally, giving respect may mean that we may need to stop and ask ourselves, in the grand scheme of things, “how important is this?” when you are debating issues with those who have differing opinions. Is the friendship or relationship more important than the issue that we are discussing? If it’s is, then it may be the wiser choice to change our surroundings, in order to let the diverse opinions of others be what they are, the right to their ability to think.

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I know it's no accident that I'm reading this at the most perfect time. Thank you for providing insight on something that is so common place on social media and in life in general. I have to admit, there are times when I'm the person that has to be right so this was a great read for me.

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