How to Connect When You Disagree

Most of us Americans are waking up pretty uneasy this morning.  Not only are we still adjusting to the time change, we are also on edge about the state of election.  Tomorrow night, half the country (or, I guess a little less than half) is gonna be mad as hell that their guy didn’t win.  And, as we know, we are living in such a bi-partisan culture (blue vs. red, us vs. them) that we have no real idea how to live with each other who don’t agree with us.

In addition to being one of these on-edge Americans, I am also thinking about this issue at a more personal level.  I just read some critique of our Go Girls! program from someone who does not agree that “segregating” girls is the way to empower them.  I have read similar arguments against single-sex education that I respect but don’t agree with.  So, what am I supposed to do?  Scream “forget you then!” and run out of the room declaring “I will never work with these people!!!”?

No.  That won’t work.

This woman who disagrees with me and I are both intelligent people who want what’s best for children – ALL children – in this world.  And there is so many challenges that our children face that we have to learn how to work together ESPECIALLY when we differ in ideology.

The same thing is true for all the issues this country faces.  No matter who is in the White House after tomorrow, we will still have to learn how to connect even when we don’t agree.  So, what do we do?

  1. “It’s better to be kind than right.”  My man, Dr. Wayne Dyer, taught me this phrase years ago, through one of his books.  I love this phrase and carry it in my heart in all situations.  When I get really upset because I feel like the other person is just so wrong, I do my very best to choose kindness in the situation.  This doesn’t mean having to concede my opinion or point of view.  It just means that I can take myself out of the position of having to “win” and just allow myself to be present with this person.  Then, I ask myself…
  2. Am I really being wronged?I try to check in with myself.  Take a deep breath and ask myself a few questions:
    1. Am I acting defensive because I am actually being attacked or is it that I just don’t like what it feels like to have someone disagree with me?
    2. If this person’s opinion doesn’t work for me, can I somehow see how it might be essential to them or others who have a different experience than I have?
    3. Can I go on living my life just as I want and still allow this person to have their opinion?
      Usually, any combination of these above questions allows me to calm down and try to find a point of connection despite our difference of opinion.  However, if, after all of that reflection, I am still feeling aggravated, I must ask myself…
  3. What can I do differently? Because, I can’t change anyone else’s behavior but my own.  Maybe the other person’s point of view is triggering something in me because it touches on something I need to change about myself.  Maybe the other person’s opinion is triggering me because it shines light on an area that I thought I understood but could stand to learn more about.Or, maybe this other person’s opinion is actually unfounded, ignorant, arrogant, and offensive.  That does happen.   Too often, unfortunately.  And that is when I can really do something different.  I don’t have to scream and yell and get as worked up as a real housewife of somewhere.  I can still choose kindness while holding a clear boundary.  I can say, in a calm voice, “What you are saying is offensive to me and I don’t trust that you are actually interested in engaging in a real discussion about our different opinions.  If you are interested in actually trying to find a connection, I will continue on this path with you.  If you continue to insist on the idea that one of us must win this argument, I will choose to move on from this.”

This is hard work.  I know.  It seems like we are only encouraged to be 1) absolutely totally in agreement or 2) yell and scream at each other until someone wins.  But, no one is winning.  We can’t solve the problems we need to solve until we can solve this one.

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