To help us navigate through tough discussions, we must first learn to agree to disagree. It is impossible for everyone to be right, because that’s what’s really at the root of the heated-ness of these disagreements. And let me tell you something. Needing to be right is not helping.
Listen to the Podcast Here:
We Cant All Be Right
First, there are no right answers. I know we may feel very strongly that there are, but there aren’t. For everything that seems clear cut, you can find compelling evidence that it’s not. Even whether or not masks are effective can be debated. I personally believe that every bit helps in keeping the virus at bay and masks will help us curtail the spread. Yet, I am helping a very intelligent doctor who spent much of his career at the national institute of health who says unless masks are N95 masks, they are mainly cosmetic. Also, there are many populations for whom masks are a severe challenge, including folks who are hard of hearing and rely on lip reading, or folks with severe anxiety or claustrophobia or autism… so even though I believe in it and do it whenever I’m in public (except sometimes when I’m walking the dog by myself) mask wearing is not a 100% absolute every one needs to do it all the time thing.
Agree to Disagree
Similarly, there are no ideal answers about whether schools should go back, or if we should bring back lockdowns. There are no absolutely right answers! When you let go of the idea that there is, you get to do something that’s crucial–and that’s to listen. In the most heated moments, you’re either going to want to charge straight in, or perhaps run far away. (That’s my go-to instinct, ha). But there is a middle ground, and it’s to be curious enough to really hear what the other person is saying. And not just the content of their words, but the fears and concerns that are behind those words, too. If you’re disagreeing with a friend about whether schools should reopen, I’m sure you won’t have to dig very hard to find that they just want to feel that their family is safe. And I’m guessing you want that too. Perhaps you each place a different value on safety and have different ideas about how to go about creating it, but the same desire is present in both of you. Finding those commonalities helps you connect even in moments of disagreement.
There something else that letting go of the need to be right gets you, and that is relief:
It lets you off the hook of trying to manipulate the outcome of the conversation. When you can stop feeling like it’s your job to convince someone else of something, it’s such a relief. And let’s face it, it is really really unlikely to happen anyway. Because, guess what: you can’t control whether someone hears you or not. So, phew! You can cross that impossible task of your list.
Let it Go
Also, having a need to make something happen that’s probably not going to happen really just ends up being hurtful to yourself. To have a need for something that you’re unable to fill is setting yourself up for disappointment. And because you feel like you need it, not getting it from this person is going to feel like an affront. It’s going to bug you or upset you. So basically if you’re needing someone to concede that you’re right, you are participating in your own upset. It’s a violence to your self. Therefore, letting go of the need to be right is an act of self-compassion.
What do you instead? Agree to disagree and make it your mission to relate not manipulate. Share your point of view. Say things like, the way I see it. We can agree to disagree. It’s helpful for me to hear your take on things. And then you can seek to understand.
If you come hard at someone and tell them all the reasons that what they think is wrong, their defenses are immediately going to go up and everything you say will bounce off them, like grenades off a tank. If you’re seeking to relate, with no agenda to get them to change their mind you might just say something that gets them thinking. A little seed that gets planted in their mind that can sprout all on its own.
Daily Tiny Assignment:
So your tiny assignment for the day is to agree to disagree and remind yourself to relate, not manipulate. Honestly, it works in all kinds of interactions, not just debates about whether schools should reopen or not. Try it with your partner when you’re talking about what to have for dinner, or with your kids when you’re asking them to do something they don’t want to do. When you take away the “you have to do this or else” they will often come around to something all on their own and that’s better for everybody.
My son did not want to go to sailing camp this year. It’s the one sport he’s done with any regularity. It gets him outside and on the water and he does it with it his oldest friend. I told him, I’m not going to force you to go to sailing camp, but I really think this will be the year you’re big enough to feel like you can do it and therefore you’ll like it more. I want for you to have something you do that you feel good about. All you need to do is try it and then you can decide if you want to keep going.
I was taking a gamble, and I knew I wasn’t up for arguing with him about it every day. And guess what, he’s having a great time sailing this year. He came home today raving about how far out in to the bay he went and how his boat was almost tipping over and how fun it was. Because I wasn’t forcing him, and he chose to be there on his own, he doesn’t have to spend anytime proving me wrong. He just gets to have the experience that he has with no underlying agenda.
And that’s my wish for all of our difficult conversations. I mean, please, I wish I could tell you something that would convince everyone you talk to to stop voting for racist candidates, or that black lives matter.
But if we’re ever going to heal the divide, we have to leave the door open for folks who are taking a hardline now to come back. If we try to make them feel wrong and like they’re a bad person for believing what they do they won’t have any incentive or inclination to modify their views. I’m not talking about rewarding bad behavior, I’m talking about creating space for a change of heart. Not because you changed their mind, but because you helped make it possible for them change their own. This is about helping other people become better people, and that doesn’t happen through force.
Keep tuning in because I’m sticking with this topic for the rest of the week. Tomorrow we’re talking about how to embrace your influence, and then to wield it in such a way that folks can actually listen (instead of you just telling folks how they should think or feel, which, believe me, is awfully tempting sometimes!)