Last week I was interviewed on a very lively nighttime talk show in a major city. I’ve been asked often lately to comment on the “Occupy” movements in different cities, and I thought that would be the direction of our conversation. Instead, the host had a number of insights and ideas he wanted to share with his listeners, and he was talking about many difficulties that the unemployed and lower-level employed are facing. Next, he took a call from a listener who vehemently disagreed with his line of thinking and his insights. They began to literally scream at one another on the phone – neither listening to the other one in their dedication to their disparate viewpoints.
I was supposed to be a guest, but found myself in listener mode. I was struggling because in many ways I agreed completely with the host and his views, and in other ways I understood the points that the caller was trying to make. But, with their yelling, neither was listening! It was hard to “care” about either viewpoint because they clearly didn’t care about understanding one another!
This seems to be what people today in so many different forums do to one another. I don’t agree with your viewpoint, so instead of seeking to understand you, or admitting that you are entitled to your opinion, I just use you as a verbal punching bag to get out all of my frustrations about what is wrong with the world! In too many cases people have lost the ability to be civil in their discourse and instead of wanting to communicate thoughts, feelings and ideas – they just YELL!
Is the objective we have when we do this to change another’s mind, or is it simply to get off our chest what’s bothering us? I would argue that it is the second. Many schools – high school and colleges – have debate teams. In debate teams we learn how to strategically think about a position and argue it to someone else. I’ve always thought that this exercise is healthy when someone is trying to get into another’s shoes. What if you HAD to argue another person’s view that you disagreed with? What if someone was willing to give you money or something you desired if you simply spent the day preparing a case for something you disagreed with? We could all do it, if we had to or were motivated to do so for some reason.
Why? How come we can’t see another’s view in the moment, but if someone paid us to take another position we know we could? This doesn’t make any sense unless we deep down DO have camaraderie with others – even those with whom we disagree. We can see someone else’s viewpoint if we are willing to take the time to do so. I’m not suggesting we have to agree with everyone else – or even that we should agree with them – but why not respect them and use some energy to think about the world from their perspective? It won’t hurt us. We don’t have to compromise what we believe in, and we might actually learn something about others and others in the process.
This week, be willing to force yourself to take the opposite view from someone you know on a matter. Maybe a significant other or a family member? You don’t even have to tell them you are doing it – make it a mental exercise if you want to. Just see what happens if you take another position!