We live in a world of wildly diverse opinions, beliefs and lived experiences. It is this diversity that enriches us all, but it can also make us feel unsafe — especially when we are expecting or demanding another to believe as we do.
A question I have often asked myself when facing a potential clash of opinions or beliefs is: How can I be me in the face of you?
How can I share my own truth and be my own unique self when another is vehemently inserting and insisting on their view? For me, pushing against another — making myself stronger and louder — doesn’t usually work, it just turns into a chaotic mess of frustration, anger and hurt from which resentment often builds. So, what can be done when we’re not feeling respected, seen or heard?
First, let me say that no matter what we do when facing potential conflict, most of us are going to feel vulnerable, trepidatious, concerned and even downright fearful. I find that grounding my body and mind with my breath is always needed. I imagine that I have roots coming out of my feet, planting themselves deep into the earth with every long breath I take, adding a foundation of calm into my body and mind before I head into risky territory.
Next, I let go of my need to be right. Sometimes, this can feel hard to do, especially if I feel someone is trying to prove me wrong. Letting go requires me to open my mind to the possibility that perhaps there is a middle ground where we both can feel seen and heard and both of us can respect our different points of view. This may or may not happen, but in order to let go of my need to defend myself, I have to step into the belief that this possibility can exist.
Then I engage with curiosity, compassion and “wanting to know the other,” as the Interfaith Amigos say. I ask questions to get to know why a person thinks and feels the way they do. I ask not as a tactic to get the upper hand, but because my heart really wants to connect and understand. I ask, “What makes you feel this way? When did this become important to you? What would make you feel better?”
If we can hold compassion and understanding for another, often that act opens the door for them to do the same for us.
The ideal outcome would be for both of us to feel respected and honored. While this doesn’t always happen, you might be surprised at how often it does. You may even find yourself in agreement about what you were originally disagreeing about. But if you don’t, perhaps you can agree to disagree, respecting each other’s differences.
Read more of the Feb. 7–13, 2024 issue.