Communicating Well in Spite of a Difference in Opinion
Today it appears that your opinion on whatever subject, it’s either black or white and no in-between. Many of us feel compelled to tell everybody how right we are in our views. Consequently, a difference in opinion is less and less tolerated. Have you noticed that?
Check out this prose, Differences of Opinion, by Wendy Cope, a contemporary English poet. It went viral as a mansplaining work. But it’s even more than that. It also relates to when one person assumes that another person is wrong, ignorant, or misinformed. Unfortunately, this is often based simply on the other person’s gender, race, or opinion.
Differences of Opinion
He tells her that the earth is flat. He knows the facts and that is that.
In altercations fierce and long. She tries her best to prove him wrong.
But he has learned to argue well. He calls her arguments unsound.
And often ask her not to yell. She cannot win. He stands his ground.
The planet goes on being round.
Global polarization on opinions is the growing norm
According to research, it’s not the issues that matter to most people but the social identity, particularly in politics. Social media makes the problems worse because it limits the dialogue with short communication. So, views become narrow and extreme because there is no real conversation. Plus, people write things they many never say in person. Unfortunately, this leads to a multitude of negative and often conflicting emotions.
The most recent US presidential election was particularly divisive. The next seems to be building on that. In fact, democracies worldwide are slipping into a “political autoimmune disease.” Extremism rules! Discussions seldom take place amicably and are intensifying. Of course, this fuels the dark web political hackers. They feast on Facebook, government institutions, and other social sites. Their goal is to facilitate false news, condemnation, anger and hate.
Countries like China and Russia haven’t taken kindly to opposing opinions for quite some time. Corporations aren’t exempt; as one CEO told me, “I am all for employee involvement and engagement, as long as they come up with what I want.” Another version of that is the quote from Henry Ford when his Model T assembly line method was taking off: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.”
Unfortunately, we all somehow get caught up in the political autoimmune disease and don’t recognize it as a form of self-destruction or autophagia.
Too many leaders that can’t lead
Philosopher Voltaire wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. In politics and our organizations, we must stop the moralizing, criticizing, spewing rumors, calling names, inciting conflict and judging. We don’t have to always agree but we can listen without malice. We need much more collaboration, compromise, consensus and compassion to co-exist peacefully. This can come only from open minds. Or, people that care for the intrinsic value of another person’s rights and opinion. Wishful thinking, maybe, but it is the very essence of liberty.
So, where is the leadership? Where are the leaders that take the high road in the midst of this escalating chaos? Where is integrity, character, ethics and honesty? Nelson Mandela declared, “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.”
Mother Teresa challenged us responding to another person’s opinion by saying, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echos are truly endless.” She added, “If we have no peace it’s because we have forgotten we belong to one another.”
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