Why Getting Others to Agree with You Isn’t Worth It
I recently posted something on social media that received a shitstorm of nasty comments. It doesn’t really matter what the post was about—just that it followed the same predictable arc of virtual rage that is so common these days. I found myself having to block people left and right because their reactions were so hateful and vitriolic.
Then, one woman who clearly did not agree with anything I was sharing stepped up and responded. Something about her response gave me pause. She wasn’t being combative or hostile; rather, she was disagreeing and sharing her point of view in a measured and thoughtful way. Before I knew it, her comment garnered an onslaught of nasty responses from people who found her belief system toxic. And while I certainly did not agree with her, I didn’t appreciate all the hate that was being directed at this woman who had been brave enough to speak her mind so calmly and respectfully.
After I defended her on my page, she added a final comment to the post. The gist of her message was: “It’s rare that I’m able to engage with someone who doesn’t have the same beliefs as me in such a respectful way. I appreciate how open you were.”
Don’t get me wrong—I understand it isn’t always possible to have a cordial conversation with someone on the other side of the fence from you with respect to your beliefs and values. And make no mistake—I am totally okay with blocking people who are nasty, disrespectful, and sometimes just mean. It’s not worth it to waste my time or energy on them.
But sometimes, we have a valuable opportunity to meet another person where they are, even if we don’t like it. I don’t necessarily think this is about coming to some common “middle ground,” but at the very least, we can get to a place where things don’t need to feel so charged. I think of what the poet Rumi wrote: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
This is a field that feels increasingly difficult to access these days, but I believe it’s more necessary than ever, as we are living in a minefield of conflict where every stray comment could lead to an explosion.
So here are some powerful steps to move through a conflict in which you don’t see eye to eye with the other person:
- Ask yourself why you need others to believe what you believe. If you feel the need to convince other people, why is that? Do their beliefs threaten your sense of your relationship or your ability to trust them? Do you believe that their ideas are harmful to you or others? Or does the strength of their belief make you feel uncertain about your own? There are no right answers here. Just keep asking yourself the question, and do your best to be emotionally honest with yourself.
- Gain awareness of your own belief. Before arming yourself against someone with different beliefs, ask yourself: Why do I believe the things I believe in the first place? Think of everything it took to get you to believe what you believe, whether that encompasses childhood conditioning, later education, or the values you hold dear. Instead of taking the belief for granted, continue to ask “why?” every time you get to an answer. When you are able to unearth the foundation of your beliefs, you can learn to stand on it with a sense of conviction that doesn’t need the support of other people in order to hold strong and steadfast.
- Try to see where other people are coming from. You don’t have to agree with them, but for the most part, people have valid reasons for their beliefs. And when I say valid, I don’t mean these are inherently good reasons—only that they make sense in light of a person’s narrative. Again, this doesn’t mean people are operating from a clear, unbiased place or that you have to agree with or condone a racist or sexist ideas; it simply means that many of our strong beliefs were forged in our early years and become huge parts of our identities. Try to you can come to a place where you acknowledge that others arrived at their beliefs through some powerful conditioning. When you understand this, trying to change their minds becomes less important—even when you see how misguided they might be.
- Ask yourself: Is the power struggle really worth it? Most of the time, the desire to change someone else’s mind or tell them why their beliefs are toxic and stupid doesn’t come from a neutral or benevolent place. Getting into a screaming match on social media or in your own home is all about the attempt to maintain control when you are feeling out of control. The thing is, we know power struggles don’t change hearts and minds. They are usually a blatant display of “power over,” which is all about diminishing and tearing down others in order to feel good, rather than “power with,” which is about speaking with and listening to others from a desire for mutual understanding and connection. Instead of being caught in a power struggle, let yourself walk away from the argument. Take the higher ground and come back to you. (Hint: If you saw the recent presidential debate, ask yourself what you might have done differently!)
- Keep calm and carry on. It’s pretty obvious that most of us are in fight, flight, or freeze when it comes to our ability to have a conversation with someone with radically different beliefs from us. Sometimes, an encounter with such a person can make us feel disoriented, angry, traumatized, or discouraged. In moments like these, it’s a good idea to disconnect from things like social media and re-ground ourselves in our bodies. This could look like taking time to breathe deeply, or by spending time in a quiet natural environment. When we are emotionally regulated, we can deal with differences of opinion in a respectful and non-triggered way.
I like to think of conflict as being similar to a Chinese finger trap. You put your fingers in one, but when you try to pull them out, you find them caught in a tight grip. You pull even harder, and the level of stuckness increases. Your frustration goes up, and your chance of getting free goes down. But when you stop pushing so hard to extricate yourself, you relax—and your relaxation releases the grip the trap has on you.
When you argue for other people to see things your way, you usually push them into greater resistance and deadlock yourself into an unwinnable battle. From my experience, when we keep trying to change other people, there’s never a happy ending. Instead, we can choose to listen to what they’re saying and decide whether we agree or disagree—which is wonderful practice for standing in a space of clarity, integrity, and conviction around our own beliefs. We don’t have to fight, and we might even learn to graciously disagree, or even see the value of the other person’s belief (if we genuinely believe there is any).
I don’t mean to say this is easy. We’re in fighting times for all kinds of reasons. In the United States, many of us are faced with important questions about the very foundation of justice and democracy. Lives are on the line. However, my hope is that we can take actions without demonizing the people who don’t stand with us. Instead of fighting against other people, we can use our energy to move toward the causes we believe in.
Diversity is one of humanity’s greatest and most misunderstood strengths. I believe we can value a multiplicity of beliefs and come to some shared agreements about the importance of engaging with each other from a place of civility and mutual respect, which is what leads us to powerful new solutions.
If that’s truly not possible, instead of fighting the other person, we can disengage. When we save our energy for what we love, what energizes us, what we know in our heart of hearts is true—we learn to become the change we wish to see instead of forcing it on other people.
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