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Maintaining Mutual Respect in Disagreement
It's certainly true that the more you delve into controversial subjects, the more likely that you'll receive heat and backlash for your positions from people who see the world differently than you do. An unfortunate consequence of that truth is that conversations about contentious subjects often breed heated commentary that can escalate to a point that often seems beyond your control. These attempts at communication can quickly spiral out of control until you're left wondering where things went so wrong, and you're frantically trying to get your point across to someone who seems intent on not listening. While it's often tempting to take the often intentional bait and dive into these devolving arguments head-on, it's often better to sit back, take a deep breath and recollect your thoughts. Understanding that not all conversations are meaningful or productive can go a long way towards maintaining your own sanity, self-respect and underlying acceptance that differing opinions are okay - in fact, they're welcome. Recognizing that, however, does not mean that you have to open yourself up to unnecessary, insulting comments from those who are searching for anything but understanding or meaningful, productive dialog with those who believe differently.
Respect is an important factor in communication that seems to be overlooked far too often. There is confusion surrounding the idea of respect, and this confusion often makes potentially meaningful conversations head down the wrong rabbit hole. When conversing with others - particularly others who fundamentally disagree with you on a pivotal level - it's important to recognize that you can speak respectfully to the person without necessarily having to respect their ideas, comments or opinions. It is never acceptable to start slinging insults against the person that you're in disagreement with. It is likewise unacceptable to start leveling criticisms about the character of the person you're disagreeing with instead of criticizing the ideas of comments that they're putting forth. Recognizing this respect factor can help us elevate our conversations to a place of mutual respect and understanding, even if we do not see eye to eye. Respecting the person behind the opposite position does not in any way imply that agreement is necessary. It is possible to vehemently disagree with a position while still simultaneously offering respect to the person who holds it. This is the standard to which conversations should be held - even if we sometimes fail to live up to our own expectations and cannot reasonably assume that other people will share them.
Recognizing and Embracing our Differences
How Do You Handle Conflict?
The Separation Effect
For some people, it is incredibly difficult to separate who they are as people from either their beliefs or their positions on sensitive issues. For others, it comes naturally. I have conversations with people spanning many beliefs who seem to think that any challenge or criticism of their belief is a criticism of them as people or an attack on their character, when I often intend nothing of the sort.
I welcome disagreement and discussion and I recognize the fact that who I am as a person is a separate issue from what I believe or the positions I hold either socially, religiously or politically. Challenging my beliefs or statements, therefore, is an opportunity for me to better understand them or clarify them. It's hard to not go into immediate defensive mode when we perceive that something we hold dear to us is being attacked or insulted. Recognizing that separation, therefore, is a pivotal part of the process. Challenging or criticizing my positions does not equate to criticizing me as a person. When it crosses the line into a blatant attack on me or my character, however, it definitely crosses the line, and at that point I'm likely to choose to no longer engage with that particular line of dialog or the person making it.
The Hypocrisy Factor
Hypocrisy is unfortunately a side effect of simply being human. We all are hypocritical at times, whether we recognize/admit it or not. Before leveling an accusation of hypocrisy, however, it is important to recognize what hypocrisy is - and what it isn't.
Hypocrisy, according to the dictionary is:
the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense.
It would be hypocritical, for example, for me to demand a standard of respect for my ideals or beliefs while not extending that same courtesy to others. The problem here is that I do not see a challenge or criticism of my beliefs as disrespectful against me as a person. Criticizing me as a person, however, is a different matter altogether. If I expect someone to treat me, a human being, with respect and then call them a name or insult them personally, I would be a hypocrite. If I level a criticism of their beliefs or a statement that they've made, however, and they react by personally insulting me, that is out of line.
It is also not hypocritical to delete comments that do not conform with the Terms of Service of the platform you are using - like HubPages. I welcome comments from people of all beliefs and opinions unless the violate the terms of service. Personal attacks, insults and accusations will not be allowed on my hubs - not because i"m afraid of the confrontation, but simply because allowing comments of that nature can drive traffic and communication away from my hub and even cause my hub to be unpublished due to the violation. It is my prerogative as an author to moderate the comments that are received on my hub, and deleting comments that are abusive, accusatory and unproductive is fully within my rights. This does not violate the free speech of those who are commenting - they're more than welcome to comment. That does not mean that they have the undeniable right to have those comments approved or posted on my writing. Taking advantage of the freedom of speech comes with potential consequences - one of which is having your comments deleted or ignored without further notification. All members of Hubpages agree to abide by the rules of the site on which our content is published, and as an author it is my responsibility to ensure that those rules are followed on my content. If I don't, my writing can be negatively impacted. I have even moderated my own comments on occasion after recognizing that I spoke in a manner that I was less than proud of.
Admitting Our Faults
How Easy Is it For You To Admit You Were Wrong
Recognizing Similarities in Discord
Despite whatever differences we may have ideologically, politically or religiously, we have far more in common than may meet the eye. We are all human beings, sharing an earth. We all have similar desires to survive and to thrive, and we live in a pluralistic world. That means that while we may not always agree, we do have to find a way to coexist - even in discord. I do not necessarily have to like a person's ideas or methods, but I do have to recognize that they are a fellow human being with need and desires that are distinctly human. Sometimes recognizing the ways in which we are similar help to bridge the gap between our differences and give us a starting place of common ground with which we can continue the conversation in a productive, meaningful and respectful way.
Approaching Theists - Fostering Continued Communication
Conclusion - Communicating Effectively
There are few tips to keep in mind when communicating with someone who's positions or beliefs differ greatly from our own. While these tips are effective in everyday communication with friends and family members with which we have much in common, they are even more important to remember in conversations that contain disagreement.
1. Clarify, don't assume.
While this may seem like an easy and obvious step, it's far harder to remember it within the heat of the moment. If a conversation or disagreement has already escalated, it's incredibly difficult to keep certain things in mind. It's easy to allow our perceptions of what's being said to cloud our judgment, enabling us to jump to conclusions and put words in the mouth of the person we're disagreeing with. If we're not certain what they meant in a comment, ask for clarification. If they aren't willing to elaborate or to phrase their response in a different way, try to phrase the comment in question in your own words and ask if that's really what they mean. People who are open to dialog won't mind restating or correcting their position when necessary, and conversations cannot move forward without mutual understanding.
2. Remember Control
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in these heated discussions is that the only person you are responsible for is yourself. You do not control the other person's actions or words, and you cannot dictate how they behave. You can, however, decide how you want to behave in response. You can either stoop to their level or rise above it altogether, refusing to engage with those who see insults as a means to squelching opposition or debate and removing the potential for conversation altogether. It's hard to not take the bait and start slinging barbs back and forth, especially about topics that you are passionate about. But remember, the only person that you have to go to bed with every night for the rest of your life is you. How are you going to feel about your actions after you've calmed down? Are you going to be proud of the way you handled yourself, or are you going to regret some of the things you said or did? If the answer is the later, you may need to rethink your approach or step back, take a deep breath and calm down before diving back into the fray. The way that other people speak to you does not reflect on your character - it reflects on theirs. Keeping that in mind can help us maintain our composure and our sanity in many of these hot-button, controversial topics.
3. Apologize When/If Necessary
If you've taken a breather from the conversation and recognized that you spoke in a manner that was unnecessary or uncalled for, it is not a sign of weakness to admit that you made a mistake and offer a sincere apology. In fact, recognizing and admitting our mistakes is a sign of strength and of courage. That being said, admitting that we spoke out of turn and behaved in a manner that was not in accordance with our own standards is not an easy thing to do, especially when you take pride in yourself and your convictions. But humbling yourself and admitting error - especially to someone that you vehemently disagree with - shows strength in character. This is true whether or not the other person recognizes it or not.
4. It's Okay to Call it Quits
If a conversation has gotten too out of control and the other party doesn't seem interested in cooling off or calming down, it is completely within your rights to take your leave of the conversation in question - or even the person that you're having the conversation with. Not all people are willing to speak reasonably and respectfully to others, especially in periods of intense disagreement, and that's okay. You don't have to see eye to eye with everyone on every issue, nor is it reasonable to expect that you will. There are some conversations and some people, however, with whom reasonable and respectful conversation simply seem impossible, and the effort is not worth the expenditure. It's okay to recognize that, too, and to refuse to engage with them further.
Regardless of what topics we enjoy discussing or how we approach controversial subjects, respect is an issue in any conversation at any level. If you want to be spoken to respectfully, it is important to offer that respect to those you engage with. The caveat to that, of course, is that individual perceptions of what constitutes respect vary from person to person, and it can be entirely subjective. The bottom line is to simply comport yourself in a manner that you are comfortable with at the end of the day. If you're okay with your own words and actions, then there's little more to be said. If you change your mind at some point and recognized that you behaved in a manner that does not coincide with the way you want to be viewed by others, it's never too late to change. It's possible to grow and learn and change throughout the course of our lives. As long as we're comfortable in our own skin, that's really all that matters at the end of the day.
© 2015 Julie McFarland