I hear people talk about tolerance and respect for the individual. These are great ideals that most organizations and leaders strive to instill in their people. I believe most of us want to be tolerant and accept others. But how can we accept people for who they are, especially when what they stand for contradicts our beliefs? That, I think, is the bigger question.
Take a moment to reason with me. We all have a set of beliefs that define us and constitute the guiding principles upon which our lives are based. These principles are the core of our very existence. They define. They direct. They instruct our every move. Most of these principles are deeply rooted in and intertwined with strong emotions. We may have adopted these principles because of our background or an experience we went through. They become a part of who we really are. In essence, they become us.
So, when we meet people whose fundamentals differ from ours, can we relate to them and accept them for who they are? How easy is it to do so? Often, it’s not very easy because a part of us will always want the other person to see life as we do, but they can’t. No two humans can be exactly alike. And if we are to relate to and live in peace with one another, then we need to develop coping mechanisms for living with the differences.
One coping mechanism is to try to avoid such people, but this won’t work since relationships are fundamental to human beings, and sometimes the differences in opinion occur with someone we dearly love. Another way to cope might be to try to re-align ourselves with the other person’s principles. Even this won’t work because we will be giving up a part of ourselves, and that’s almost impossible to do. Somewhere down the road, our human nature will rebel, and we will revert to who we really are.
So, what does work?
Find a common ground: I have discovered that an easier way to engage someone with a life perspective different than mine is to find something that we both agree on, and start with that. It may be something as basic as the weather. That’s easy enough and provides an initial basis for a decent conversation that can build up to something more significant.
Seek to see reason: You don’t have to change your own point of view or beliefs to see another person’s point of view; you just have to have an open mind. Listen, and try to understand why they do what they do—the driving force and the nuances in their bias. It’s interesting to see how much we learn about different aspects of life when we keep an open mind.
Respectfully establish your stance: There is nothing as frustrating as trying to be someone else. Once you have listened and understood why the other person acts the way they do, you can respectively state your stance. Without sounding judgmental or argumentative, you can simply say, ‘I appreciate your point of view, and here is mine also’. Truth be told, even if you say this to someone who loves to argue, the person would still try to convince you otherwise.
Pick your battles wisely: If you sense the other party is in the conversation simply to argue, then drop the subject, and move on to something else. Just as it may be difficult to convince you to change your position about something, it may be even more difficult to ask another person to do the same, so don’t bother. There is no point arguing. Just end the conversation. And at least you know what not to bring up at your next encounter with the person.
People and perspectives are as diverse as they come, and that’s the beauty of life— that we are all different. When we meet someone with a different view on life, our goal should be to enrich our lives by learning more about that person’s perspective and helping them do the same. Understanding breeds tolerance, tolerance breeds friendship, and friendship breeds posterity.
My two cents. I am sure you have some thoughts on this topic as well—maybe even better advice—so share it. We can all learn a thing or two from each other’s experiences. Subscribe for regular updates when I have a new post, or just follow on the go from your phone.
‘Do the best you can to live in peace with everyone’. Romans 12:18 (ERV)