This is the second post in the series I'm writing about all the lessons I would love to teach my younger self if I had the chance, and it's about people with opposing views and how we deal with them. In my view one of the biggest problems the world has is that large numbers of people when they come across a person who has a different opinion to them, rather than wanting to understand why they think differently, want to attack those others for having a different opinion.
And it comes from the fact that in my opinion we are for some reason by nature very inward in our thinking as a species, for example, think how frequently we all use the word I, if I was in this person’s shoes for example. We always say if I was in this person’s shoes, or if I was that person. But using the word I is a precursor to the problem, because it’s taking you into that person, yet to imagine being in another’s shoes you have to leave yourself behind.
Literally, to imagine being a person other than ourselves we have to let go of every ounce of ourselves, all of our thoughts and feelings, all of our experiences, and instead embrace the other person’s thoughts, feelings and experiences. But of course this is really difficult to do.
And because of this, because it is so difficult to actually imagine being other people, because we more often than not think from our own perspective, frequently even when we think that we are thinking from someone else’s, it means there are a lot of people out there who are not seeing things from other people’s perspective. Which means we end up in a situation where lots of people think that other people are not getting it without realising that they also are not getting it.
This inevitably can lead us to start attacking those who have a different opinion to us because we believe that they are not listening to us, and we may be right but we are also likely not listening to them. Which means the irony is that we are the cause of our own frustrations, and that is because it is not just others failing to see things from our perspective, it is also us failing to see things from theirs.
This is why in my view since the creation of social media so many people are starting to attack those who have a different opinion to them. People are all saying why don’t you get it, but not enough people are actually searching for the reason. And that frustration at the fact that people aren’t getting it evolves into anger and that anger morphs into an attempt to unwittingly try to force people to change their views, or rather to try to force people to accept that our views are the right ones and theirs are wrong. And we do this because we unwittingly are so desperate to get people to listen and understand us that we don’t realise that what we are actually doing is the exact thing we are trying to fight against, forcing people to accept our beliefs.
But in reality this is basically a form of bullying, meaning many of us are unwittingly trying to bully each other which is of course why it is so difficult to get people to hear us. The further irony is that that bullying in my view is born out of what some people may call a rigid laziness, but what I think is a misguided belief of being in the right.
Or rather it is not a case of people rather than wanting to go down the hard and long drawnout process of trying to understand why a person thinks the way they do, of considering whether maybe that person has a valid point of view, it is a case of people being so frustrated at not being heard, and being so frustrated and angered at another person’s view, that they can’t bring themselves to listen. It is sort of like you are not listening to me so why should I listen to you.
But like said attempts at bullying only ever lead to anger, and feelings of victimisation, and anger and feelings of victimisation only ever create more anger and further feelings of victimisation, so the more a person attacks someone for their opinion, the more that person will double down on their opinion, and the more that person will feel like they are the true victim. And in many ways they will be right. Which is why in many ways at current we are all victims. Victims of ourselves.
To explain, a person who can’t listen, even when they are right and their argument is the more powerful, will find themselves in the wrong because it is not being right that makes a person be in the right, it is how a person handles being right. And if the way you handle being right is simply to highlight that people are wrong, you will likely never be heard.
This is something that I definitely wish my younger self had understood, the amount of times I wasted arguing with people who I knew were in the wrong, and yet despite me highlighting as such with a frequently very powerful and what I thought was a non-condescending and friendly evidence-based argument, never seemed to be able to get them to accept as such, is ridiculous. Now I read that sentence and think to myself how stupid was I, trying to get a person to accept that they were wrong. Why should that person accept that they are wrong? Just because I am right?
Anger and attempts at bullying people into submission, which is basically what many of us frequently unwittingly attempt to do, never bring about change, they do the opposite, they make change harder to be brought about because the more a person attacks someone for the point of view that they have, the more that they try to prove to a person that they are wrong, the more that person will resist any notion of change.
In fact one of the greatest epiphanies I have ever had came as a result of reading a random quote on Instagram, it said “how many times have you ever changed your opinion when the person trying to change it was doing everything they could to try to prove that you were wrong.”
After reading this I thought to myself, has this ever happened? The answer I came up with was very few times, and never happily, and I imagine a lot of people would give a similar answer. Even when we know are wrong if someone is trying their upmost to prove as such to us, accepting as such can be very difficult.
Dan Carnegie in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People said that the best way to get a person to listen to you was to first listen to them, and I have to say that is a brilliant piece of advice (if you haven’t read his book I highly recommend it, and I can’t stress enough the fact that it is one of those books that will change your life).
He also said that people hate to be proven wrong, they don’t mind being wrong, but they just hate it when a person tells them they are wrong and they hate it even more when a person proves as such, because in doing so it makes a person feel like they have been forced into submission rather than having willingly accepted the new truth. And nobody likes to be forced into submission.
Because of this he writes that if you are right and you know for certain you are the best way to go about proving as such is to allow a person to consider the fact that they may be right and that you may be wrong, all the while telling them the facts so that they may conclude for themselves, should they want to, that they are wrong and you are right.
What this means is even if a person is in the wrong there is little chance they will ever willingly accept as such so long as their egos are being threatened, and the reason for this is because the one doing the threatening is refusing to accept the notion that they could be the one that’s wrong, and even if they are not the other person has the right to believe what they want. And only a person who accepts this fact has the power to get a person to change their mind on a subject, the reason being that person is thinking about the other person’s feelings.
I’m not going to lie this is something that I found difficult to come to terms with, after all, to consider accepting the fact that it is acceptable for some people to think certain things, evil things even, to think that the only way to get a person to change is to be tolerant of their views no matter how lamentable they may be. Even more frustratingly, to not be able to tell a person they are wrong about something even if you know for a fact they are wrong, because if you do so they will in all probability refuse to accept as such no matter what. And even if they do accept as such it will only be because you forced them into submission, even though you weren’t trying to force them into submission, you were just trying to be heard. It just all seems so silly, surely a person want to know that they are wrong right?
Reread that last sentence, surely a person would want to know that they are wrong? Think about the arrogance of it. Of course people want to know if they have it wrong, or at least the majority do, we all want to be right of course we do, and if we are wrong about something we want to know, we just don’t want someone to get a big ego boost off proving as as such. After all no one wants to feel stupid right? And yet when we try to prove a person wrong, that is the feeling that most often people end up with.
What separates a good teacher from a rubbish one, is the fact that a good teacher will never, and I mean never, allow under any circumstance their students to ever feel stupid for being wrong about something. In fact, they would do the opposite, they would teach that being wrong is not a bad thing but in fact a part of learning. So a good teacher praises his or her students for learning that they are wrong about something and then praises them even more for learning to be right. And if you have identified that a person is wrong about something, and you want them to be right, then you are basically being a teacher and so you need to act like one.
Even if you only wish to tell a person something about yourself, offering your opinion, telling them about your feelings, whatever, you are still taking up the role of a teacher and so must act as one otherwise it is highly likely that what you say will fall on deaf ears.
An unfortunate trait of humans, I was guilty of this, in fact I suspect that the majority of us are, is that we love to be right and on the side of right. But the reality of the situation is, everyone has the right to think and believe what they want, and just because you know a person is wrong doesn’t mean you have the right to tell them and prove as such. Meaning just because you know a person is wrong or in the wrong doesn’t mean you have the right to tell them as such.
Meaning no matter what a person’s beliefs are, so long as they are not persecuting others for their beliefs, they are welcome to their beliefs and should not be persecuted for them. That means even if someone thinks that you are a dumbass, so long as they are being respectful and treating you fairly, you don’t have the right to try to attack them for their belief. You can call them out on it and have a conversation about it, if they are open to one that is, but so long as they are being respectful and treating you fairly then you have no right to attack them.
And this fact brings me to my next lesson I wish I could teach my younger self. The key to a tolerant society is and will always be accepting that everyone has the right to believe whatever they want and that no one has the right to be persecuted for being who they are and for believing what they believe. If everyone shared that belief then we would live in a society of zero persecution.
And that’s because in a society like this all the people would be open-minded, and the reality is, only an open mind can create change. If you don’t have an open mind, if you can’t listen and truly hear what people have to say, you’ll find nothing but anger and hatred, or rather not listening to somebody only ever creates anger, bitterness and hatred. And no person full of those emotions will ever be open to changing their views. At least that’s the way I see it.
That means the only way to get people to hear things from your perspective is if you are willing to first hear things from theirs. And note that I use the word hear, that doesn’t mean just listening to the other person, it means hearing them. It doesn’t mean attacking them or telling them that they are wrong or stupid or monsters or whatever for thinking and believing what they do, it means hearing them and accepting their right not only to be heard but to think whatever the hell they want.
As the famous saying goes treat people how you wish to be treated, that means if you wish people to be open to change, then you must be open to it, if you want people to listen then you must listen, and that means actually listen, it also means if you are rigid then you are saying that you wish to be treated with rigidity. Meaning if you attack a person for their view of not listening then they will be liable to do the same in return.
It can be the hardest thing to do to accept that other people have the right to believe things that you find not right, but if everyone shared that belief there would be no persecution because it would mean we lived in a society where everyone was heard and everyone was tolerant of what everyone had to say and think.
And being heard is the key. Having the power to hear what a person has to say is, and this is just in my opinion, by far the greatest superpower a person can possess, because if you hear what a person has to say, you gain the power to be heard from that person because it is a damn certainty that if you listen and hear what they have to say, if you don’t attack but instead try to understand, if you don’t ever tell them that they are wrong and in fact even consider the possibility that no matter what they have the right to believe whatever they want, in return they will listen and hear what you have to say, and more importantly than that try to understand what you have to say. And a person who tries to understand is a person who is open to changing their opinion and their beliefs. That means if you want others to be open and willing to change you have to be open and willing yourself and you have to express as such.
Meaning the greatest way to bring about change in my view and in the process help create a more tolerant society has been and will always be not just listening to people, but hearing them with an open mind that is willing to change because only then will they hear you with an open mind and thus be open to change. Meaning if we all lived in a society where instead of hating on people, we took a moment and truly tried relating to people, truly hearing in an open and inviting and non-antagonistic way what they have to say, the world would be a much better place. And the way we do this is by first doing it ourselves.
This is all of course just in my view, and I have rambled on a bit more than I intended with this post. But I truly believe that to be heard you must first listen, or rather perhaps you must hear to be heard. So the next person you come across who has views you disagree with, instead of telling them as such, listen to them with an open and nonantagonistic mind, truly hear them, do that and there is a high chance that they will do the same for you.
That’s all from me for today, stay safe!
This is part of the Life Philosophy series I am writing, a series in which I imagine what lessons I would tell my younger self if I had the chance. To see more from the series see this link: Life Philosophies series