17. Understanding Debate

Good morning and welcome to your seventeenth meditation. Has anyone you love ever expressed views that are anathema to you? Views that run contrary to what you understand to be your most basic moral principals? Perhaps we’ve all experienced the beer-emboldened uncle who lets slip some joke in poor taste over a family dinner. This can be uncomfortable and upsetting, especially if others who are present encourage the bad behaviour. But what if it is your parent, or a sibling, or a son or a daughter, or a close friend who holds these problematic views? And what if the joke is a fully fleshed-out belief system that is so deeply ingrained that they regard it as a fundamental piece of their identity. It can be difficult to know how to respond to either situation. But if this is someone you love, someone you care about, with whom you share a relationship that you value, the first step is to try to stay calm. Sometimes our loved ones say and believe things that are so upsetting to us that it’s difficult not to lash out; to become angry and belligerent. But you probably already know that this kind of aggression only tends to separate people further, lessening the potential for any kind of mutual understanding and empathy. Next, be careful not to be dismissive of your loved one. Whatever path they took to arrive at the views they now hold, it was a human walking those steps all the way, and it is a human before you now, replete with their sensitivities, and defensiveness, and fallibility, just as you are. And remember that you are indeed fallible; and that it is impossible to know the whole truth about anything. Remember that we all have certain biases that guide the opinions we formulate and the information we seek out. And remember that, increasingly, the information we seek out tends to confirm the biases we already hold. This is true for you just as much as it is true for the person with whom you disagree. Only once you have taken all these steps to be a generous and sensitive interlocutor should you try to state straight-fowardly and undramatically how your loved one’s views make you feel. It is unlikely that throwing facts at them will help anything, at least at first. We’ve seen throughout history that belief systems tend not to be based on facts, but on feelings about what constitutes right and wrong. So appeal to that most human side of them. Tell them genuinely that you love them. And remember that saying “I love you, but (…)” is not a genuine profession of love. Never say “I love you, but (…)”. It will always sound patronizing, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, being patronizing is another thing you will want to avoid. Lastly, don’t expect immediate conversion. There may not be any conversion at all, and that is fine. We all couldn’t possibly agree about everything, and surrounding ourselves with people who hold different views than our own can help us to remain open-minded. So even if you can’t finally agree, perhaps through open dialogue, love, and respect, you can achieve a state of mutual understanding. And if not, it may be time to re-evaluate that relationship. Keep it up. You’re doing great. Have a wonderful day.

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