I have learned I don’t agree with everyone. And everyone doesn’t agree with me.  Have you noticed that we are at an all-time high when it comes to disagreement in our country?  We have oodles of tension right now regarding the pandemic, politics, and racism.  Social media is burning up with claims of all sorts of conspiracies, gross incompetency, diminishing individual freedoms and police brutality. Arguments, caustic put-downs, and name-calling has become the norm for some who seem to spend their day on Facebook.

When I encounter people with whom I disagree, I could say “shame on them,” and while that might be funny, it isn’t fair. I’ve been wrong many times before. Many times. Just ask my wife or my kids.

Over the years, as I’ve taken time to listen and get to know people different from me, I’ve realized I often have as much in common with them as I have differences.  Most of us are closer to alignment than the news media or politics might describe.  Everyone seems to love to push people to one side or the other of the continuum.  Of course, there are people who are extreme in their viewpoints, but even they probably share some common desires and ideas.

One blogger I follow, Ron Edmonson, recently gave me a good summarized view of simple reminders that I’ve been trying to build into my life during these contentious times.  Here’s what helps me and maybe it will help you too.  While I usually try to avoid assumptions because they often lead me toward premature and unfair judgement of others, these are things I can probably assume about most people with whom I might usually disagree: 

  • They know things I don’t know.  I don’t have to agree with everything they think to learn something from them. I can always eat the meat and spit out the bones.  Emotionally mature people can disagree without being disagreeable. 

  • I know things they don’t know.  Granted, it takes two people for mutual learning to occur, but I can only be responsible for my side of things.  The bottom line is, my experience, background, education, and environment shapes what I know. Or think I know. The same is true of you.
  • I almost never “win” when I make my goal to convince them I’m right.  People naturally become defensive of their positions.  That includes me, unless I discipline myself not to.  I remember the line of a short song we learned in high school choir: “If you convince me and I convince you, won’t there still be two points of view?”  The goal is not to have a winner and a loser.  Both are winners when there is better all-around understanding.
  • I can better engage people if they think I actually like them.  People respond better when I am trying to understand them. There’s an even better chance of having a positive dialogue if they experience love from me. 
  • Understanding another person’s perspective requires listening.  It involves an intentional attempt to hear what they are feeling as much as what they are saying.  King Solomon wrote, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in sharing his own opinion” (Proverbs 18:2).  Walking in the moccasins of another person isn’t easy.  It takes intentionality and asking questions.  We must find a way to do life with those who come from a different economic background, a different skin tone or a different faith journey.  And it takes asking questions that begin with “help me to understand…” to position us for empathetic understanding. 

  • At the end of the day, we want many of the same things.  We all want to be happy (and for our kids to be happy). We all want to make the world a better place. We all want respect. We all want to live in peace.  We may disagree on the best way to get there, but our end desire is usually going to be the same.

You may think I’m overly simplistic.  That’s okay with me.  But it seems to me the more we understand what each of us want, where we’ve developed our point of view, and how our own culture, demographics and beliefs shape our opinions, the better we can work through our differences to accomplish things of value for each of us.  We must not forget the words of Leo Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”  Reducing the tension and bringing peace to our world, starts with me.  And finally, Carl Bard says, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

QUESTION: Which one of these 6 parts do you find easiest? Which one is the most difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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