3 min. read
There is a lot of anger in the world right now. Some over-the-top-crazy stuff like road rage and shootings, and lots of low-level simmering frustration. Nearly every time I look at social media there is some kind of disagreement going on. Politics, public health issues, personal choices … you name it and people are disagreeing about it.
I too recently got into a heated debate. Two very different opinions and neither of us willing to see the validity of the other side. No resolution. No meeting of minds. And even days after it was over, I continued to get heated whenever I thought about it … and I thought about it quite often.
It took me a while to step back and see the interaction from a more neutral perspective. There really was no difference between us at all. Neither of us was truly listening to the other. I was just as infuriating as they were – only keeping quiet until I could counter with my “right” opinion. Not surprisingly, that only succeeded in getting them to try harder to convince me of theirs. As Terri Cole says, “debating doesn’t allow us to listen with the intention of understanding. How can you listen when you’re simply trying to crush another person’s perspective with your airtight argument?”1
And that’s exactly what I was doing. I thought that I could convince them to come around to my way of thinking and I got frustrated when they didn’t. It was enlightening to later read that self-righteousness “immediately repels those you hope to persuade or inspire.”2
Wow. That’s the total opposite of what I was trying to achieve. In hindsight, I could see how I was turning them off with my “rightness” as much as they were turning me off with theirs. All I’d really succeeded in doing was getting all worked up and angry.
Once I’d more clearly and accurately seen my part in the interaction, I looked back at some reading I’d done on anger and realized that I had done pretty much everything opposite to psychologist Harriet Lerner’s3 wise counsel.
I had forgotten that everyone has a right to everything they think and feel, just like I do. I had forgotten that “there are as many ways of seeing the world as there are people in it”. I stated my thoughts and feelings clearly, but I forgot that it is not my job to make another person think and feel the way I do or the way I want them to. Boy, did I forget that one. That was my whole goal – to make them think and feel the way I wanted them to.
It’s easy to see now how impossible the situation was. Both sides trying to make the other side think and feel the same as them. Futile.
So, what’s a better way? As hard as it may be in the heat of the moment, recognize that I am participating in an intellectual argument that is going nowhere and will never go anywhere. Stop spinning my wheels trying to convince others of the “rightness” of my position and getting angry when that inevitably doesn’t work.
And here’s the really hard part. Disengage. Take a breath and end the argument by taking Dr. Lerner’s advice and simply saying, “Well, it may sound crazy to you, but this is how I feel.” Or, “I understand that you disagree, but I guess we see it differently.” And move on to another subject knowing that everyone’s right to their thoughts and feelings has been respected.
- Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free by Terri Cole
- The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism by Andrew Harvey
- The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D.