Let’s Agree to Disagree

I received an email this week from a woman who works at a state agency. She had heard me on the radio and was intrigued by what I speak about, because in her office people do not get along and it isn’t fun for anyone to go to work anymore. As I was reading her note, I heard a news report about the tragic shooting in Arizona aimed at the Congresswoman there. An innocent 9-year-old girl was also killed. She was there to learn more about politics in our country, and she did not live to see another day.

What is it with politics in our country? What is it with the general sense that if I don’t agree with you, I simply hate you and want you banished from my life – and from the Earth? Why is there so much vitriol because people stand on different sides of the issues?

I’m not much interested in politics, personally. I am a happily registered Independent and I believe the two party system we have is very divisive. That’s probably a topic for another day! What I don’t understand is the ability we seem to be missing as a culture to just agree to disagree. Instead, we seem to cultivate the “do it my way, or I will hate you forever” attitude. I see this in town meetings, at the state level where I live and certainly on the national scene. I honestly can’t say this is attributable to one party over another; it seems to be the unspoken agreement we have across the board.

If I disagree with you, I am generally disagreeing over a viewpoint, a belief or a value. In my book “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior,” Secret #3 is all about how values come between us. I state it as, “Your values speak more loudly than you do.” This is because we all hold different things near and dear. If you and I agree on the same values – and on how to manifest them, or implement the ideas associated with them – all is well. I love someone who sees the world the way I do. But if we disagree, or my most important values are anathema to you, we will have a very hard time having a civil discussion to reach an agreement.

So, if we know this, why can’t we just live and let live? I believe it’s because most people haven’t learned the art of Interested Observer, as I talk about in my work. We feel triggered by a person or an event, and we instantly react. Now, thankfully most people don’t do what the young man in Arizona did, but we do seethe, avoid, or lash out verbally at others because we don’t like what they have to say. Our triggers tell us what to do, instead of our logical mind taking over and mentally stepping outside of the situation to quietly observe what’s happening.

It goes like this: We hear or see something we disagree with. We feel attacked and we take it personally. We react. We no longer see the other person as a person with feelings, a heart and a mind; we just see them as “our problem.” If we were to see them objectively with our foibles and their foibles intact, we might be able to forge an agreement. Or, at worst case, we might agree just to disagree. I have different values from my husband, from my sister and from my parents. But I love all of them dearly, so I can be objective about what they care about, and why it’s different from what I care about. Why am I able to do this with people I love, but not with a Congresswoman or -man I hear on television? I have something to lose by reacting to the people who are close to me. We often feel we have nothing to lose with those we don’t know, or who are not in our inner circle.

Try this week to take everyone mentally into your inner circle. If you feel triggered by something someone else says, allow yourself to mentally step outside and see if you can just let it go. Can you agree to disagree instead of being triggered? It’s worth a try to attempt to shift the environment you operate in to one more peaceful and accepting of others.