Disagreeing appropriately – it’s an important social skill, but at times, one that seems on the verge of extinction. Adults and kids alike struggle to master the concept. Fortunately, I had a great discussion with strangers earlier this week and was given a glimmer of hope.
After a long flight I sat down in a crammed airport restaurant. With one man on my left, another on my right, and a TV three feet in front of us, we were forced to watch a never-ending cycle of news. “Really?” said the man on my right. “How can people still defend that man?” The man on my left visibly twitched and said, “He’s our president. And the economy is great.” A period of awkward silence followed.
We all know I couldn’t leave things there.
“Yep,” I said, treading lightly. “It’s hard. Everyone trying to do what they believe is right. There is no easy answer.” Though both men were visibly frustrated, the door opened for discussion. I listened to both men sling accusations across the political divide before bravely jumping in. “Personally, I don’t know one Republican that wants to put children in cages and separate them from their families, nor do I know one Democrat that wants open borders. I’m guessing both are out there, but I believe they are the exceptions rather than the rule.”
We had a great talk. Though it was apparent we had very different beliefs, we talked, listened – and dare I say, had shifts in perspectives, having found small pieces of common ground on which to focus. By the time we left, all three of us were laughing. “Have you thought about running for office?” one of the men asked me.
If we expect our kids to learn the skill of disagreeing appropriately, we have to be able to model and teach it. Unfortunately, technology has replaced face-to-face discussions. In the virtual world all opinions get painted as extreme. I believe isolated posts, tweets and news feeds most often divide us. I find face-to-face discussions have the potential to unite.
So rather than avoiding uncomfortable discussions, have them and work through the disagreements, focusing on understanding over judgement. And when you see a post or hear someone offer information, ask yourself this question, “Is that comment serving to divide and alienate, or helping us find common ground?” Personally, I believe the latter is the only way we will move forward.