Reality Check: Disagreements Close to Home

People argue. That’s no surprise; we have different opinions. Discussing opinions can be useful, enlightening, and fun!
However, disputes can also be destructive, even permanently damaging relationships. Political and cultural issues—views of entitlements, responsibilities, political correctness, justice—are especially fertile ground for conflict.
Kris and Ollie see each other at holidays when the family gets together to eat, laugh, and argue. Good times!
However, over the years, the tone of the arguments has changed. Now, when Kris comes from university and talks to Ollie on the farm, the discussion is hostile rather than good-natured.
Let’s ask Kris and Ollie: “Do you want to continue arguing? We all know you’re not likely to convince anyone that they’re wrong and you’re right.”
If both Kris and Ollie agree to stop, then make a rule: “No politics at the family dinner.” You can even appoint a referee. Auntie Sally—if the disputed topic comes up, shut it down.
However, if they don’t agree to stop, then you may as well accept that the dispute means more to them than the relationship. May as well keep that in mind as you make plans.
If both Kris and Ollie want a genuine discussion, then a big gathering is not the place. An audience is helpful for some activities; not for this.
If they choose to have a conversation, here’s a suggestion. Rather than presenting a litany of “facts” to prove the other wrong, try open-ended discussions: “Tell me how you have come to believe…” “What convinces you that this is a credible source?”
Kris and Ollie could also explore what connects them. Do they share any values? I’m betting that they do, but they may need to dig a little to expose them.
For example, if the argument is about environment or justice, both may learn that they have similar ends in mind but disagree on the means to getting there.
I am not naïve enough to believe that we all want the same things. However, starting with the big picture may reveal more agreement than bogging down in details.
While I am fond of fact-based decision–making, believing that you are arguing facts may only harden disagreement. We are exposed to different sources of information. We have different influences in our social circles.
It’s not surprising that 20-something Kris tunes in to different information than 60 year old Ollie. What one may believe is common knowledge may be unheard of by the other. What one perceives to be naiveté, paranoia, or misinformation may be perceived as fact by the other.
By the way, accusing the other of evil motivations doesn’t help. No one is persuaded by, “You think money grows on trees” or “You don’t care about the planet.”
Finally, Kris and Ollie might look at whether this dispute is really between the two of them, or one stirred up by external forces. Like it or not, some influencers thrive on conflict. They don’t care about collateral damage, such as family disputes, that can result. Are you in a battle that directly affects you? Or are you echoing someone else’s fight?
Issues are worth discussing and even disagreeing over. Building close relationships is worthwhile too. If you really want to persuade, try looking for agreement and proceeding from there, rather than starting with disagreements and hardening your position.
What do you think?

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