What Do I Want From You?

I had the pleasure of being interviewed on the radio show The Gary Baumgarten Report this week. We talked about many things related to political discourse, and the general lack of civility in some discussions in the public arena. There were callers from all over the world posing questions and viewpoints. I enjoyed the dialogue immensely.

One caller wanted to ask me about my perspective on a disagreement he was having with a friend of his on the issue of gun control. The caller gave his position and basically went on to say that his friend was not willing to listen, or understand another viewpoint. As he talked I created an image (through my filter) that these two people often engaged in this dialogue, with neither one convincing the other of a different opinion. The caller wanted to know what I thought about his friend who refused to listen.

Do you ever have this experience where you just can’t believe that another person is so unwilling to see your way of thinking? We all have very strong opinions on certain topics. Learning to understand other people and other viewpoints, and learning to treat them with kindness and humanity, doesn’t mean we agree with everything we hear from others. We may have an emotional experience about a certain topic that is very meaningful to us. But when we do – why do we spend our energy arguing with someone who fundamentally disagrees with us, expecting that person to change their mind?

Think of the energy that is expended in disagreement between two people all the while knowing that they won’t agree – probably ever. What do we believe we will gain by continuing to do verbal battle with someone who has a different perspective, a different set of values and a very different filter on the world (on this topic anyway) from our own?

This is not to say that we shouldn’t voice an opinion. Change happens on many fronts because there is a place for education and debate. New information comes to light, and many people who may have believed something at one point can learn new information and find a new perspective. It’s more the manner in which we tend to engage in these disagreements. I set out to convince you that your viewpoint is wrong and mine is right. Most times we aren’t even listening to one another, we are just listening for a “cue” to give us another chance to present our case. Is this productive and conducive to building relationships and common ground between us? In many cases, it’s not.

When we are passionate about something, the truth is that we simply cannot see there is another perspective. It’s almost as if that other perspective just doesn’t exist – or shouldn’t exist. We hear someone voice something counter to our thinking, so we are triggered and we react. And, depending on the depth of our feelings about the issue, we don’t usually stick to the data and facts – we make it very personal about the other person. “How could YOU BE a person who believes X?” “You are one of them?”

Ever have the experience where you worked with someone, or knew them somehow and you liked the person but then you learned that they had a certain life viewpoint or position on a subject and all of a sudden your perspective on them changed? The person didn’t change and the part you liked was still there, but the values they expressed colored your viewpoint of who they really were.

In our culture there are many ways to express our opinions. We can blog, we can write an editorial, we can vote, we can speak at a local town meeting, we can contribute to a charity that is working toward the change we want, we can hold forums to educate others, etc., etc. But many, many people don’t choose to productively work for the change they want; they spend their time and their energy complaining to and about others. It’s neither beneficial nor useful, and it definitely creates rifts in relationships. It’s so much easier for me to demonize you if I believe your views are “wrong”.