Reality Check: The Joy of Diverse Opinions

Wouldn’t it be great if we all agreed? We’d live in peace and harmony! However, to quote Dr. Glasser, “We all want a perfect world populated by perfect people like us, but that world has never existed. If it did, there would be no need for psychotherapy.”
People have different opinions. You and I probably have different opinions. I don’t know that for sure, but I’m willing to bet we can find something that we disagree on. For example, we might disagree about whether it’s appropriate to bet about finding disagreement!
Kris and Ollie have different opinions. They disagree on big issues of right and wrong and smaller ones too: hobbies, work, foods, even hockey teams. Does this sound like anyone you know?
The relationship between Kris and Ollie could be as spouses, family, coworkers, friends, neighbours, etc. Regardless of the type of relationship, here’s the question: Can two people who disagree get along in a way that’s satisfying for both?
More generally: Can we deal with differences of opinion in constructive, rather than destructive ways? It depends. “Depends on what?” you might ask. My answer, “It depends on what you want.”
In his marriage counselling process, Dr. Glasser would start by asking whether you want help for your marriage or whether you want a divorce. If you want a divorce and you’re only coming to marriage counselling so you won’t feel guilty about breaking the marriage, then his place wasn’t for you.
I think that’s a remarkably honest approach. Similarly, whether we can get along despite disagreement may depend on the answer to, “Do you want to get along?”
Many strong opinions that spark conflict are around what somebody else “should” do or “should” believe. “You better agree with me!” has a conflict-provoking quality to it, doesn’t it?
Back in the school yard when the bullies ganged up, you may decide to acquiesce so you can walk away. You might even publicly announce, “You’re absolutely right. You should have my lunch money.” However, what you mumbled under your breath was likely not the same. The angry undercurrent remains, hardened by coercion. That’s not “getting along.”
For Kris and Ollie, a clarifying question on any of their issues is, “Do you want to reach a shared understanding? Or are you aiming for the satisfaction that comes with coercing or shaming someone into agreement?”
Tolerance, oft-touted as a virtue, is only a virtue if we’re tolerant of someone whose opinions differ from ours. If we are only tolerant of the people we agree with, that’s not really tolerance then, is it?
But when a difference is about an issue that really matters to you, genuine goodwill and tolerance can be hard to muster. Does your opponent even deserve to be heard?
Is it worth it to try? It depends on what you want. Do you want the relationship? Or do you want to win? If you can’t have both, which is more important?
If the answer for both Kris and Ollie is that they want the relationship, then there are proven communication methods that could help them limit the potential damage caused by their differences. I’ll discuss a few approaches in upcoming columns.
Does tolerance and goodwill apply to differences of opinion?

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