It was one of those light bulb moments.
A few of us were sitting in a comfortable setting, having a discussion. The topic doesn’t matter. What matters is that some old disagreements arose and I didn’t handle the situation very well.
I could point out that the other person in the group – the “main” one who I was in a dispute with – started it. But that not only wouldn’t be entirely true; it would only underscore how badly I was missing the fact that I was not following the principles I so ardently promote: Listen with your heart, seek first to understand before insisting upon being understood, don’t judge the other person’s character based upon their delivery… or even the content of their delivery, etc.
So, I say this for the benefit of the reader: I knew better, but I didn’t behave that way. The ugly parts of the discussion could have been averted altogether had I not engaged at certain key points, which led to an escalation.
Still, the overall experience was a good one. Me and my antagonist hugged at the end of it all, and agreed we’d see each other soon. No harm done.
Perhaps it would not have ended as well as it did were it not for my best friend being present. There were a couple key moments when some seemingly absurd thing was said to me and the attention shifted away from me when another guy chimed in to respond, and in those moments I got an elbow to the ribs with some poignant whispered advice: “Don’t argue with that. That’s a core belief. You won’t change him on that point. He is speaking from his worldview and you won’t change that… especially not right now.”
I smiled, knowing that was the right perspective. The truth is that I was smiling through gritted teeth because even though we may know the right perspective, in the heat of an emotionally charged situation, allowing that right perspective to adjust our own delivery is an exceedingly difficult thing to do. For me, it would involve admitting that my judgments about him were every bit as “out of bounds” as his were about me and then making the choice to be the first one to back down and back away.
I didn’t want to back down from the “right-ness” of my position. Doing so would be like telling him that he is right and, doggonit, he wasn’t right! I was right and he was wrong! Period.
But in the end – after a couple more elbows to the ribs – I did resign to what I knew the situation called for. I didn’t do it very gracefully, but I hope to the next time I am in a similar situation.
The real light bulb moment came later when thinking deeply about the anatomy of that whole situation and others like it. When we are in a disagreement with someone where the disagreement involves the way facts and events are being interpreted; when there are differing strong opinions and core beliefs; if we leave that situation still in a state of disagreement rather than honorable respect for the differences, it is because we have put the person with whom we disagree into one of three proverbial pigeon holes. Sometimes we will condemn others to some combination of the three.
The pigeon holes are unkind. Whether I want to admit it or not, I have made the unfair determination that the person who stubbornly sees the same events vastly differently than me must be one or more of these three things…
- They are ignorant. They are still unaware of certain facts that would change their outlook if only they knew those facts, and/or
- They are stupid. They lack the capacity to “get it”. This other person just isn’t smart enough to understand what I am trying to get across to them, and/or
- They are evil. They are lying and purposely trying to bring pain into my life… for no reason!
If we can’t figure out a better way to view others with whom we find ourselves in conflict or disagreement, it is a rather hopeless situation. I hope you agree.
In making any of the above negative judgments about others, we are making some rather remarkable judgments about ourselves. We are placing ourselves in the position of one who pretty much knows all. We know we are more intelligent than our opponent. And we know we are more virtuous than them. If I am qualified to decide all these things about another person, I am really saying that I’m better than them… without saying it, of course.
There is a fourth option, one that is very different than any of the above three. I’ve already said it. It’s the choice to honor the other person enough to simply allow for there to be an outlook different from yours.
My best friend is 100% correct. When dealing with another person’s core beliefs, you cannot change them; only they can. Therefore, it is wrong to try and it is wrong to argue with them and it is wrong to judge them for having different core beliefs than you. Honor the other person. Respect that there is a difference and seek peace by gaining agreement that the relationship is more important than the difference.
And then move on. If you can’t, it is hopeless. But of course, you can. It is a choice. To love, to honor, to respect and to be respectful – those are always choices that, when made, give rise to hope that the seeds to an improved relationship have been planted and cultivated in good soil.
“Three fourths of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world will disappear if we step into the shoes of our adversaries and understand their standpoint.” — Ghandi