“Opposition inflames the enthusiast, never converts him.”
-Johann Fredrick Von Schiller
Disagreement is a common everyday experience. We all come from different backgrounds and have had different experiences. We have talked to different people and visited different places. We were raised by people with their own unique beliefs and each teacher we’ve ever had came with their own unique set of beliefs and opinions. So, of course we disagree. How could we not? What is not as clear is why we are so tempted to dislike the people with whom we disagree.
We try to keep the hatred at bay. We try to keep our disagreements centered on issues, but our hatred shows itself when we stop attacking arguments and start attacking people. The exchange stops being, “your argument isn’t logical or factual” and becomes “what sort of person could believe that?!”. Why does this happen?
Everything starts with how we understand ourselves. We come to believe that our opinions aren’t just something we hold, but something that defines us. So, people who disagree with us aren’t just proving us wrong, they are proving us worthless. We feel that our very identity is under attack, so we lash out. Since we feel our person has been attacked, we feel justified in attacking or hating the other person in response.
How can we escape this toxic cycle?
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant offers a different way to view disagreements. He writes, “Disagreement often comes across as disrespect, but it can be a sign of respect. When someone argues with you, take it as a cue that they value your viewpoint. If your opinion didn’t matter to them, they wouldn’t bother to try to change it.” This sort of mindset is indeed helpful, but a lasting solution needs to go deeper.
Our only hope is to have our identity rooted in something deeper than the opinions we hold. If we believe that our value is larger than our opinions, we will feel less threatened when others disagree with us. This will allow us to disagree in good faith, avoiding ad hominem arguments, while respecting those we debate against. It will also allow us to handle the insults and attacks of insecure people who need to feel that they have won an argument to feel good about themselves.
The process of solidifying your identity deserves more space than I can give it here. A general principle to consider is that our lives are only as stable as what we ground our identity in. If we define ourselves by our job, for instance, getting fired isn’t just discouraging, it’s crushing.
I’ll save further talk about identity for other posts, but if you want to learn more, I encourage you to check out my good friend, Neil McLamb’s website at the link below. He and his wife Melissa do a wonderful job discussing identity and related issues.
So, how do we stop hating those we disagree with? We must learn that our value runs deeper than our opinions or positions. You are more. Losing an argument isn’t fun, but losing yourself is debilitating.
May you learn to know and trust that you are more than the arguments you make and opinions you currently hold!
Grace and peace.
Neil and Melissa’s website: http://safecandc.com