The other day I posted something on Facebook, an article I had found that clarified a question that had come up in conversation. It seemed pretty straightforward to me: There was the question, here is the information that sheds light on the answer.
Unfortunately, what I thought was a simple post turned into a raging argument. I watched as people I care for attacked one another, each weighing in with their opinion. Some of those opinions spoke to the original article I had posted, but many more reflected the strong dissenting feelings of those on opposing sides of that and several side issues as well. Some were directed at me as the author of the post and the more I tried to explain, the more heated the argument became. I finally gave up on anyone understanding.
How can we respond in this challenging time when even the simplest of statements may cause anger and hurt in another? Whether the topic is religious, political, racial, medical, or something else entirely, most people have an opinion and know where they stand on a given issue. Share a differing opinion and it can be like waving the proverbial red flag in front of a bull. Defenses go up, adrenaline rushes, and mental and physical preparations are made to either fight for the existing point of view—or flee from the prospect of an argument.
This response originates in the part of the brain that controls our basal physical responses, especially our reactions to fear. Our bodies seem to recognize that fear is a natural response to disagreement and goes along accordingly. However, as human beings with other, higher brain processes at work, we always have the choice whether to bow to these primal instincts or to override them.
When it comes to disagreeing with one another, it is rarely a good idea to give our emotions full rein. Instead, it can be wiser to take a step back from that first emotional response. Ask yourself, “Have I walked in this person’s shoes?” After all, opinions are formed through exposure to both information and experience. It is unlikely that everyone has had the same experiences or been given the same information. It therefore follows that every encounter with another person gives the opportunity for gaining insight from that person’s information and experiences. In other words, we can learn from one another. But only if we suppress that initial instinct to fight or run.
So the next time you find yourself in a disagreement, STOP. Take a deep breath. Invite the other person to share their experience and insight. Take the time to really listen. Then share your own. Acknowledge that your truths may not be the same, but that you are willing to learn. This is not easy. Neither of you may change your minds. But you will at least have heard a different perspective and that is the beginning of understanding.