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We Can Disagree, Without Being Disagreeable

It’s not what we disagree on, it’s how we disagree that matters.

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Image Licensed from Shutterstock
Image Licensed from Shutterstock

How often are you right? I’m guessing you’re right more than you’re wrong. Me too! That’s usually a point most of us can agree on.

I’ll never forget the summer morning I experienced a perspective shift on the cost of being right, and the value of disagreeing with grace. It started with a knock on the door. My husband and sons tease me relentlessly for being slow and cautious to answer the door, especially when I’m not expecting a knock. This particular time, I opened the door without caution. There stood two men, and from what I judged, they were looking to give me a sales pitch on their religion.

Normally, I would be polite and to the point. I’d let them know straight away I’m not interested and then I would quickly close the conversation. I would walk away, usually feeling slightly irritated that a stranger came into my space – uninvited – looking to change something they would never be able to change. That’s what I would typically do. But this day was different.

This time I approached the conversation, grounded in my truth, and also open to discovering what motivated them. I was genuinely curious why they approached perfect strangers on a sunny morning – from my viewpoint – with a deeply personal topic they thought they had a right to change.

It turns out, this particular conversation was not at all a sales pitch, or a heated argument, or even one that felt judgmental. It was a back and forth discussion about differences of opinions. It was a discussion I thoroughly enjoyed and was equally surprised about.

At one point in the conversation, I shared that I usually don’t answer the door when I see them coming because I’m not interested in changing this part of my belief system. I told them that I don’t like arguing or feeling judged. One of the men said something that has stayed with me ever since. He shared that we can disagree, without being disagreeable. That statement felt right in my bones. I didn’t change my opinion or belief on the subject matter. But I viewed these two men I had formed a judgment on, in a whole new light – one that accepted our differences with grace.

When our deep-rooted beliefs are tested, we can become testy. This is especially true when we are passionate about what we believe. And more so, when our beliefs relate to what we feel concerns the greater good of humanity.

All throughout history, good people have stood their ground, have fought with their lives on the line – have lost their lives – all in the name of taking a stand for humanity. The act of disagreeing or taking a stand isn’t wrong – it has led to some of the great freedoms many of us enjoy today.

We need people to disagree and take a stand, so voices that wouldn’t be heard are heard. So, injustices that would be left in the dark are brought to light. And so, little by little, we can inch our way closer to a world that values equality and humanity. Or in the very least, so we live in a world where we stop dehumanizing each other for differences of opinions, or ways of living.

We aren’t all going to get along in the sandbox or agree on what we should build. But there is no reason why any of us should throw sand in each other’s eyes while we play. It’s not helpful and it’s not necessary.

As human beings, we are complex. We are neither entirely good, nor bad. We have goodness within us, and we also have darkness within us. We have the tendency to judge, and we also have the tendency to feel compassion and empathy for others’ struggles. Some of us are more well-practiced in these areas – let me reframe that – some of us believe we are more well-practiced in these areas than others.

Often, that’s where the problem originates. It’s when we believe we are better than others, that we know what’s best for others, or that our way is the right and only way. Why do we human beings do this? You may ask. I don’t have the answer that will likely feel right in your bones. What I do have is my sense and perspective that feels right in my bones. That’s truly all any of us has – our own unique perspective on life. Perhaps, another common trait we share.

Here are some simple reminders I turn to as a way of remembering it’s possible to disagree, without being disagreeable – a sentiment eloquently shared to me by perfect strangers on my doorstep. Maybe these reminders will be helpful to you too.

Be Ready to Steady

When you’re passionate and ready to take a stand on something important to you, see what feels different when you steady yourself first. This is the most important step in disagreeing without becoming so enraged you lose your way – and ultimately your main point.

Certain circumstances are going to make us angry. We can use all of our feelings to help fuel and guide us. When we pause to steady ourselves first, we are able to clearly articulate our voice and pain point from our raw truth, instead of from a place of attack.

Steadying yourself has a lot to do with nurturing yourself. In order to not behave like the frazzled 3-year-old who is ready for a nap and will throw a life-sized tantrum to make the point – take care of your fundamental needs. Stay hydrated, get adequate sleep, move your body to your ability, nourish your body with healthy food – breathe! These are basic, yet often overlooked, steps we can take to bring our voices forward in a way that feels aligned with our truth.  

Be What You Seek

When you take a stand or want your voice and opinion heard, do you sometimes forget to deliver it in a way that’s aligned with what you’re actually taking a stand on? What I mean is, if you’re wanting a particular resolution, but you deliver it in a way that is combative or polarized – the actual message kind of gets lost.

I’m guilty of doing this. When I want my kids to stop wrestling or to quiet down, or to hustle up and get ready to go out the door, and I lose my mind and yell at the top of my lungs, very rarely do they listen. But if I approach them quietly and calmly, or I silently come into their space – they freeze. I can see the confusion on their face. They give me the “what’s wrong with mom” look. Every time I approach them in the same way I’m wanting them to be, it has a way of working out more peacefully.

At the very least, when we be what we are seeking, we feel better inside.

Be Open to Curiosity

It’s not usually what we disagree on, it’s how we disagree that matters. If everyone in the world believed the same thing, and we all approached life in the same way – it would be super weird. Diversity is what makes the world beautiful, both in nature and in human nature. When we are curious, it doesn’t mean we are accepting someone else’s view as our own. Being curious is about being open and interested to view the many different ways you can get from a to z. Or in this case, the many ways you can live a life from start to finish.

See what shifts, when you give someone you disagree with, space to share who they are and how they feel. Curiosity has a way of softening a conversation, so the disagreement can move from being a personal attack, to merely a difference of opinions. Two very different stances.

Be Kind

Above all, be kind to others and be kind to yourself. That’s not a tall order for any of us. If you feel attacked, or you disagree so strongly you have no interest in working something out – that’s okay too. We aren’t going to like everyone we meet, and everyone we meet won’t like us.

Love yourself and your fellow humans enough to know that each of us is trying our best. It’s okay to set healthy boundaries, without justifying or giving a long explanation. If someone insists on disagreeing with you in a very disagreeable way, don’t engage. Don’t allow their darkness into your spirit – as you’ll be sure to pass that darkness along to someone else.

When people who don’t know me, say mean things (especially on social media), I follow the “block and delete” method. It’s like zapping the negativity away, so I can take care of myself and maintain a kind heart. It can be tempting to lash out to others who hurt us, or who hurt people we love. But, the temporary satisfaction of the lashing, pales in comparison to the lasting comfort of kindness.

A little kindness goes a long way in how we choose to disagree with others. Give it a try!


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