Here’s a lesser known secret to intelligent living.
A young lady got in touch with me. She said she was living-in with her best friend. But on the subject of getting married and having children, the couple, she informed, were in complete disagreement. “We love each other dearly. We like being in each other’s presence and we miss each other when we are not together. Where we differ is on getting married and having children. He wants to marry, he wants children and I don’t want either. Is it okay for me to disagree with him on something as important as that and still love him,” she asked.
I told the lady that it is possible and fine to differ with someone on an opinion or issue and still get along with that person. Even so, she must consider the long-term aspirations of her partner in the backdrop of their relationship – we will discuss that part in a bit.
First, let us talk about disagreeing with someone on an issue and still having a friendship, still loving that someone. I personally feel it is definitely okay to be that way. This is not about being hypocritical or practicing double-standards. This is a mature way of learning to separate issues from people.
It is definitely not easy to start with. But when you view any situation closely, you will find that it is imminently possible to deal with it dispassionately, which is always the best way too! What happens though is when we have a difference of opinion with someone, we try to avoid or even reject that person. We start finding newer flaws with that person in order to magnify and justify our difference of opinion. So, for instance, say you disagree with your friend’s political views. And you get into a strong argument with that friend. Instead of shaking hands with that friend at the end of a stimulating discussion, you choose to just walk away. The next time you meet that friend, you are carrying the baggage of the last experience and you begin to wonder why he or she is dressed the way they are. You start justifying your last opinion of this person with a fresh sentiment saying this person does not even know how to be properly groomed. And so this ruinous cycle of ‘building a case’ to isolate the person itself, not just the views, begins. It happens subconsciously. But it happens all the time in most relationships we have.
Pause for a moment now. Think of all the situations when you have disagreed with people in the last week. Just in the last 7 days. Review your sentiments, even the ones you may have not expressed but experienced in your mind, of these people. Objectively enlist the number of times you were on the ‘building a case’ mode with these people. To your surprise, in each of the instances when you disagreed on an issue, you have subconsciously, taken the route to justify and magnify the difference of opinion, often beyond the issue itself. You will be surprised how habituated you are to this practice.
We must break free from this thinking though. Three simple steps may be helpful here: 1. Acknowledge that each one is entitled to their opinion 2. If you disagree remember always that the disagreement is with the issue, the opinion, never with the person 3. Conclude each disagreement session with a smile and say clearly, passionately, that you hope to find a meeting ground sometime soon on this issue! Apply this to every relationship you have and to every episode where you have felt or expressed disagreement. Start with your list of last week and work back, ensuring also, that going forward you will not let any new disagreements assume demonic, irrevocable proportions.
In the lady’s specific case, the difference of opinion is not over political ideology or food preferences or movie options or a dressing sense. It is not even about marriage; disagreeing over that, in my view, can be managed and overcome. It is about something very special, very personal – the desire to have children. So, in case she maintains her stand while her partner still nurtures the aspiration to have children, at some point, their disagreement may lead to a separation. And there’s a learning here for all of us – if your disagreement is over something so fundamental that it may lead to you separating from the person you are disagreeing with, then accept the outcome gracefully. Don’t sweat over it – after all, it was your choice to disagree, so please respect the other person’s choice to move on.
The key point I am making here is that you can surely disagree with someone without being disagreeable to them and without feeling miserable yourself. Therein lies a lesser known secret to intelligent living!