I’ve been sitting on this post for a few of weeks now – as I originally wrote it after a very hurtful conversation I had with a friend. After some time to cool down and contemplate that conversation – here is a more rational version of my original writing!
Have you ever had an opinion about something that differed from what someone else believed? Of course you have! We all have different tastes, preferences and beliefs. It could be as simple as a movie, a book or a type of music. It could be a type of sport or choice of a favorite sports team. Maybe it’s more complex like a personality type, a behavior, a sexual preference, a political platform…a religion. Why do we sometimes get offended when people have different opinions or beliefs than us? And worse yet, why do we feel it’s our obligation to try and set them straight?
This is one of those many things that I tinker on from time to time. It has been the reason for the cooling off of some friendships and even some family relationships over the years. I’ve been on the receiving end of many of those comments through my life. I’ve also been on the giving end. In truth, neither is a great place to find yourself.
So let’s think this through. It is absurd to believe that you will always agree with everyone on any given topic. It’s just as absurd to think that we can change another’s opinion simply because we tell them ours, or that we think theirs is wrong. Yet how many countless hours have been spent having those exact conversations? While the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees us the right to speak our minds, it doesn’t mean that we should do so without regard for another’s right to have their own opinion. I like Dr. Ron Paul who recently said “Whose rights must we violate to get what we want?”
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all share our opinions in a way that was not intended to hurt those whom we are sharing those opinions with?
I’ve experienced some good humored ribbing over things where I differed in opinion from others. Some were simple differences of opinion, some more complex topics. In most of those cases, there was a conversation about the topic, usually followed by the agreement that the topic wasn’t worth discussing any longer, or we simply agreed to disagree. We moved on to the next thing – no harm, no foul!
And then there have been those conversations where some rather hurtful or spiteful comments were made. I think the thing that upsets me the most with these are when the conversation gets too personal. It becomes the goal of the “opinion giver” to get their point across, no matter how it is done or who they hurt in the process. Is this a part of our human nature – the need to be right, the need to be heard, the need to be agreed with?
So what is the answer? Some would say to just keep your opinions to yourself. That may be good advice for some people and situations, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s wrong to share your opinions, as long as it’s done with a heart for others. I think it means that if we don’t agree with another person’s opinion, it’s ok to just agree to disagree. It’s even ok to “debate” an issue, if we do it in a compassionate way, and not with the intention of getting our point across at any cost.
Thinking back to that situation from a few weeks ago, I wonder how maybe I could have handled my end of the conversation better, While it may happen from time to time that these situations are one sided – often they get blown up because of fuel from both sides. This particular conversation started out harmless enough, but somewhere it took a turn. I can’t speak for the other person, but contemplating it from my end I believe I failed in two ways. First, when I began to feel offended by the comments being made, I tried to rationalize with the person instead of just being truthful that I found their words hurtful. When that didn’t work, then I shutdown and ended the conversation very abruptly. I should say here that the person did call back a few minutes later to apologize if I was offended by their comments. Notice – it was not an apology for what they said, but an apology if I took it the wrong way. In the end I accepted that apology, and while we’ve moved on, I can tell that that this short nagging conversation is still in the back of both of our minds when we see each other.
This isn’t the first difficult conversation I have had with someone and I’m sure it won’t be the last. So here is my personal challenge. I can’t really control what others do or say, but I can choose to be conscious of what I say and how I say it. I can also choose how I react to things that are said to me. Whether it’s listening to someone else’s opinion, or sharing my own, I can choose to do so with integrity and compassion for whomever I’m speaking with – even when I don’t agree with them. And if I begin to feel like a conversation is taking a wrong turn, I can nicely say – “Let’s just agree to disagree on this one” and end it there!
I found this quote today – and it hit home in a lot of ways…
“Don’t expect everyone to understand your journey, especially if they’ve never had to walk your path!” ~ Author Unknown