I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, and learning from them. This world would be so boring if we were all the same. Some of my best friends hold vastly different viewpoints from my own, and I treasure them. I learn from them and hopefully they learn from me as well.
Yet I have watched friendships strained, some even severed, without a real conversation being held. I have heard the same thing from friends and family. They whisper their hurt through tears and such sadness…how a friend, sometimes one of decades, has suddenly blocked them on social media and refuses to speak to them anymore. Oftentimes this happens after a negative online interaction with no actual conversation being held in real life.
When did we become a culture that celebrates diversity in one breath and cancels anyone with opposing views as our own in another?
When did we go to attacking each other on social media without any sort of attempt to ask questions or seek to understand the other person in a private conversation?
So, what can we do to change these tendencies? How can we shift from judgment to compassion and change our culture for the better?
Start by taking a breath. A deep one.
If you see a post or meme on social media that instantly upsets you, take a minute. Most of my regrets come from instantly reacting rather than responding in a calm manner.
Be Aware of Confirmation Bias
I had a great conversation with a friend who said, “I feel like one of my strengths is knowing my own lane. The lane I like to be in.” She was talking about being aware of her confirmation bias and remembering that as she interacts with others.
It’s human nature to want to be right and to find arguments, facts, and opinions that back our own beliefs. And being aware of this tendency can help us interpret information in a better way. Sometimes I have to fight the urge to build an argument in my head instead of truly listening to the other person.
When encountering a different viewpoint, I often need to think, “I hadn’t thought about it that way” or, “Maybe I need to look into this a bit more.”
Get Curious and Listen to Understand
“Get curious,” as one of my friends likes to say. Start asking questions.
We each view the world through a lens that has been colored by our unique experiences, deeply held beliefs, and insecurities. One of my mentors loves to say that if there are 36 people in that room then there are 36 different talks going on because we all hear, process, and retain things differently.
When I listen to understand rather than just waiting to respond, I hear so much more. I try to assume good intentions rather than rush to judgment. We all want to be judged on intention rather than how our words are perceived, but we don’t always give others the same grace.
I try to ask questions to get a better understanding. Especially if I read something a certain way that doesn’t seem consistent with what I know of a person’s character. And I would hate to lose a friendship due to a small comment or momentary lapse in judgment that had unknowingly offended.
Avoid Cancel Culture
Unfortunately, we live in a cancel culture that prizes cutting everyone out of your life if they disagree with you. We can be quick to judge and blame those who are different, who think or feel differently than we do.
I am not saying don’t have healthy boundaries or limit contact with someone who is toxic for you. But take care not to immediately use different political, religious, or other opinions as an excuse to cut someone out of your life.
It is very difficult to grow as a person if you only seek to surround yourself with others who believe the same things you do. We cannot stretch our views if we don’t hear other perspectives.
Learning from Mistakes
It’s okay to admit you were wrong or made a mistake. It is a process unlearning old habits or beliefs. And it takes a strong person to realize they don’t have all the answers, that they were in the wrong, and if they were hurtful, to apologize.
If you have canceled friends in the past, maybe now is the time to start having conversations to try to understand each other. To question: is this something worth losing a friendship over? Or, did they really say what you heard?
If not, apologize and start rebuilding that relationship.
Getting Along Despite Our Differences
I have many friends with very different viewpoints from my own, and I love them. We often end with agreeing to disagree, but with a better understanding of where the other person is coming from. At the end of the day, we still have more in common than not. Hearing another perspective humanizes that point of view. And honestly, I am more likely to truly listen to an opposing viewpoint from someone I have a relationship with already.
We are never all going to agree on policies or politics. But can we agree on trying to focus on our humanity, on all our commonalities rather than differences?
It is so easy to get caught up in our views, our desire to be right, and wanting others to agree with us. We only see the facts that back our opinion and reject all others.
I have very strong convictions and opinions that I am passionate about, as we all do. But the bottom line is we need to be willing to hear both sides, empathize, and overall, be kind. To realize that we can completely disagree and still have compassion and respect for each other.