We are in the midst of a Civil Rights Movement, and there is currently a lot of tension in the air.  Even if you don’t think you are personally being affected by what is occurring, someone you know probably is.  Therefore, we are all being impacted by the winds of change.  This has brought me to thinking about the Sufi Poet, Rumi:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.  Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

I believe that this quote needs to be revisited.  I have spoken to many people who have been struggling with others around them because the ones that they are speaking to do not share the same views.  I know how frustrating this can be.  I have had many years of experience leading to numerous conversations with people who don’t necessarily share the same thoughts and beliefs that I have.  Each of those conversations inevitably led me to a crossroads in where I wanted to take the discussion.

The first choice is that I could try to make them see that I am correct.  It only makes sense.  I have read many books and I have been practicing in the field of psychotherapy for a number of years. So, it would be in their best interest if they listen to me.  I know what is best for them, and I know that if they do what it is that I am saying, their lives would much more fulfilling.  Everyone would be happier.  If they would follow my advice, people would see that life doesn’t have to be as complicated.  They would learn that my ideas are the correct ways to go about their lives.  When they see things my way, everything would make sense, and the world would be more peaceful.  They should even thank me for my insight, and for taking the time to help them get their life straight.  Wow, right!?  I am actually laughing as I type this!  But let’s be honest and real for a moment; who hasn’t had some variation of one or all of these thoughts?

The second choice is one that has been discussed by many philosophers, writers, activists, and leaders.  It is an idea that you can find written in fortune cookies, hear being preached by many people, but is seldomly practiced.  It’s an easy post to make on Twitter or Facebook but is one that is rarely seen in much of our current society.  In theory it is easy, but in application, it takes discipline.  It is the choice of acceptance.  It would come in the form of me accepting that the person of an opposing view is not in a position to adopt the same view that I am holding on to.  That’s it!  You might be thinking, “Mike, what are you talking about?  I do that all the time.”  But do you?  Do you really?

To decide on the second option means that you choose to quiet your ego.  You need to take the stance that you accept the other person’s position no matter how much you disagree.  Remember, acceptance is not the same as agreement.  This may be hard to do emotionally, and even physically.  It means that you have to give up the notion that you have all the answers and that you can run the other person’s life more efficiently than they can.  The idea of acceptance needs to occur on all fronts, in all conversations.  In full disclosure, this is something that I still struggle with from time to time in my personal life.  But to also be fair, I think it is human to struggle with opting for this second choice.  It is a habit that needs to occur.  A practiced choice over time.  The issue here is that this second choice is not practiced by a larger society, thus making it easier to throw our hands up and choose option number one.

In order to avoid unfruitful and unpleasant arguments that often come as a result from taking the first option, I want to offer a few suggestions that may help you practice the patience and compassion that accompany the choosing of option number two.

  • The word LISTEN and the word SILENT have the same letters, but they are just arranged in a different order. While practicing the SILENT part in your mind when the other person is talking, you are quietly and consciously choosing the path of acceptance.  Once you start to have a rebuttal formulate in your mind, you have stopped listening and are now waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can interject your own view into the conversation.  Internal silence and reflecting back onto what they said is not a form of agreeing with the other person, they are active listening skills that allow the other person to feel heard.  Allowing the other person to feel heard set the stage for them to be open to listening to you.
  • Ask more questions as opposed to attempting to make points that are aimed at proving the other person wrong. When faced with a heightened level of resistance, which is common for emotionally charged topics, it is more helpful to ask questions about the other person’s view.  Asking the person clarifying questions in an attempt to work on your acceptance can disarm someone in a conversation.  Ask if they have any research that supports their viewpoint.  Thoughts and behaviors serve a purpose to the person behind the thought and/or behavior.  So, asking about how that viewpoint serves them and how it has been helpful can lead to a higher level of alignment and lowered amount of confrontation.  Please note, these questions need to be asked in a compassionate tone, and not a tone that resembles sarcasm or contempt.
  • Bring well research resources to the discussion. This can take some of the emotionality out of your responses.  Referring to your resources allows you to remain focused on your message.  It can also help focus on the idea of education rather than trying to convince the other person of a mere opinion.
  • Be willing to walk away without a resolution. It is helpful to know your threshold of emotion.  Being willing to respectfully end the conversation and walk away can be a challenging thing to do.  In addition, when dealing with a highly emotional topic, walking away when you realize that the conversation can no longer be productive might be the most compassionate action.  The key here is doing to respectfully.  We are all in differing stages of change on highly emotional topics.  Some people are open to change and willing to have a conversation.  Others are not open to change and unwilling to accept new information if that information is in contrast to their current belief.  Knowing when to engage and when not to can help you manage your own stress levels.
  • Live the way you want to see things differently in the world. Francis of Assisi once said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”  Live by the principles you are talking to others about.  If you are not able to live by example, then your stance in the discussion is compromised and you will struggle with keeping your ego in its place long enough to take the second option.
  • If you are still struggling with how to proceed in discussions that are centered around our challenging social situations, then please call The Center for Trauma, Stress, and Anxiety, at (443) 567–7037 to make an appointment to speak with one of our therapists.