How To Deal With People You Fundamentally Disagree With
Lately, there are many purposes to have strong and worthy opinions that need to be voiced out. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought up myths that, when cultivated, could threaten the public health and safety. Various modern rights movements are illuminating many issues such as systemic capitalism and systemic racism that continues to empower those who are privileged but yet ignorant, including in the health-care, workplace, education and general wellness space. So, when someone in your life speaks and defends a perspective you don't agree with and you feel that you can't simply brush it under the rug, you might wonder what is the best way to handle that conflict? Should you take a stand or not engage at all?
This line of thoughts might have come up more often than you want it to be. For example, some people in our lives do not believe in the rationale behind feminism or equality of all genders or counter systemic racism with microaggression. But, even when perspectives in question seem to you to be obvious matters of right or wrong, figuring out where and how to go next in your relationship with someone who has different thoughts and opinions from yours likely isn't so obvious. Most of you are often left wondering, how could you keep someone in your life whose perspectives are mostly directly opposed to you in such dangerous ways, even be moral? Considering you have been through a lot with them, clearly the relationship is complicated.
Below are some ways for you to learn on how to handle the conflict of fundamentally disagreeing with a loved one or simply with someone you know at your workplace or group of friends.
Agree to disagree
There are many people in your life that will be having different opinions that are very difficult for you to cut ties with. For example, your family members or your romantic partner could have extremely different political or social views from you. However, some of these people could still be a great friend or someone you cherish in your life. Hence, the way for you to continue your relationship in a manner that is more healthy is simply not talking about the topic that will cause intense disagreement that could affect your relationship. This “healthy avoidance” could help relationships flourish between people who disagree on major issues. Creating filter bubbles might not completely solve a conflict but it could help you to avoid abandoning yourself in order to make such a compromise. In other words, there’s a difference between agreeing to disagree on something central to your passions, morals, and personal ethics, versus something you can feel okay not mentally or emotionally contending with on a daily basis. The specifics here will differ from person to person.
Engage in conversation aimed at gradual persuasion
If you don’t feel okay with letting someone’s perspective slide, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to end the relationship. If someone is important to you, you may want to invest energy in working to change their mind over time. It’s important to remember that the reason change happens isn’t because you said something revolutionary that just clicked in someone’s mind. That’s very, very rare. Change is chipping away slowly at another person’s ability to see your side of the fence. The reason change happens isn’t because you said something revolutionary that just clicked in someone’s mind.
In having these conversations as a way to deal with conflict of opposing points of view, we recommend checking your emotions at the door and taking an approach based in logic, evidence, and facts. So, instead of, say, yelling at someone for not wearing a mask, you’d be better served by sending them as much data as you can find about the efficacy of masks. If they send their own data back, evaluate it and reply with additional evidence to debunk it—calmly and compassionately. When you’re having these conversations, it’s important to remember that you can’t fight emotions with logic and you can’t fight logic with your emotions.
If healthy dialogue doesn’t work as a strategy for dealing with conflict, we suggest setting boundaries, especially if what someone believes is actively harmful. For example, you might tell a loved one who refuses to wear a mask that you won’t see them until they start taking that measure. Or if a friend is arguing with your Black Lives Matter posts, you could tell them you won’t engage until they’ve completed enough anti-racism reading to have an educated conversation about it. If someone is actively pushing back against anti-racism efforts, you don't have to be close to them right now. It's a great way to protect your energy.
If you find you can’t deal with the conflict of opposing perspectives by agreeing to disagree, setting boundaries, or changing minds, it’s okay to stop investing your energy in the relationship. When you’re saying ‘no’ to someone, you’re also saying ‘yes’ to your needs—to peace, to your security, to your sense of emotional safety. It's worth noting that these fractures may not be a result of your friends’ beliefs at all, but rather a shift in you. You’re capable of growth and transformation just like anybody else, and you have the right to change how you feel.