A while ago I wrote a blog entitled "Are we really just arguing about socks?" about how many of the things that people disagree about are simply matters of opinion, different habits and personal taste. From an objective perspective, such differences are usually trivial and yet they can create relationship-threatening disagreements between people. Given recent events in the news - from Brexit and Trump to discussions about funding priorities, I thought it would be worth updating the topic with another blog.
Recent political decisions have caused many discussions and, sadly, many arguments too. I know of sets of close friends and even families torn apart by their different views. I've seen people who are normally reasonable trading insults with those who disagree on social media, or being insulting and using vast generalisations amongst themselves about those who disagree on one topic or another. The damage done by this behaviour to relationships is potentially great - even when the insults aren't directed at one individual, but at whole groups of people, because a member of your friends or families may be a member of that group.
Yet throughout each of these debates each side has failed to recognise that they might be arguing about things which cannot be checked or proven - things that are perspectives and opinions, not facts. That's not to say that there are no facts to be disputed - of course there are. However, the perspective taken might be very different. For example, it is a fact that funding any new project will cost money that could be spent elsewhere. However, whether the new project should be funded and take priority over others is a matter of perspective and opinion. This is evident in our everyday lives - even amongst otherwise similar people one person will choose to spend a significant proportion of their money on clothes, another would chose to spend that on holidays instead. Both will have valid reasons for their choice - there is no right or wrong.
Similarly with politics. People who we regard as similar to us - our friends and family perhaps, will each have travelled a different route through life and reached different conclusions. You might hope they change their minds, you might try to explain why you think differently, but if you maintain an adult perspective, you will not resort to insulting them or thinking that they are stupid or unprincipled simply because you disagree. Learning to accept differences amongst those you live and work with is an important aspect of emotional intelligence.
One technique that can help a person to understand how people can come to have such different opinions is to imagine meeting with some friends in the centre of your town or village. Depending on where the friends live, they will take different routes to get to your meeting place. One might come via the most rural and scenic route or through tree-lined roads and another might have to come via the more run-down or industrial part of town.
On meeting in the centre, each friend will look around and will interpret what they see influenced by the route they took. The one who travelled a scenic route might have a favourable view of the town, with any areas needing a lick of paint being seen as quaint. However, the person who came via the run-down area might see the same areas as indicative of poverty and neglect. Both people have seen genuine aspects of the town, but have reached different conclusions and have different feelings, based on the route they took to get there. Both are valid perspectives and both are based on individual experience of some facts, some of which are unknown (or at least not experienced) by the others.
So it is with all opinions in life - they are coloured by our journey so far. A person who has grown up in poverty will most likely have quite different views to one raised in a wealthy home. A person who has witnessed or experienced violence will see life differently from someone who has not.
We might never be able to understand, or agree with, some people's views, but unless we make an effort to accept that those people have that view because of their personal experiences in life, we will continue to endanger valuable relationships over such differences and we certainly will be unable to persuade others to listen to us.
So, even if we might have lively debates on the topics of disagreement, it is possible to remain friends with people with whom we disagree - so long as we maintain respect and accept that our meeting place in life has been reached via different routes. After all, it is our friends' differences from us, as well as their similarities to us, that make them complement our lives so well in the first place.
I work with clients face-to-face and via Skype, so wherever you are, why not find out more about how I could help you to achieve the happiness success that you deserve? I am also available to talk to groups who want to learn more about stress management, improving lifestyle habits and confidence building. Contact me today for more information.