Reality Check: Opinions, Beliefs, and Relationships

Do you base your opinions on facts? Science? Data? Common Sense? Of course you do. So do I. So, how can it be that we have different opinions about important things?
It’s easy enough to accept that we have different opinions about music, food, or who makes the best pickup trucks. That’s individual taste. It’s ok if I have fries instead of the sushi that my friend enjoys. He might consider me unsophisticated (probably correctly) but we aren’t going to fight about it. To each his own.
However, some differences cause real suffering in relationships. Pre-pandemic, we might not have thought of discussing even strongly held beliefs. It went without saying that anyone with “common sense” agrees with us, or so we thought.
But we’ve learned that it doesn’t always go without saying. Beliefs about safety, freedom, responsible behaviour, the roles and limits of governments, media and businesses affect how we act and how we get along.
Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory suggests that while all of us have the same set of basic needs, different people have different levels of those needs. Further, some of those needs can cause conflict, even within us.
For example, Lynn has a high need for security (safety) and a relatively low need for freedom. If Lynn isn’t confident about being able to satisfy that safety need, then Lynn will have a different opinion of a policy than Kim, who has a high need for freedom and a relatively low need for safety (or is confident of being able to satisfy that need).
Disputes about something that’s obviously right to you but seem clearly wrong to another can wreck a relationship, whether family, friend, co-worker, etc.
If that’s your situation, you can choose how to proceed. One choice is to avoid the conflict, and this can be an effective option! We will not agree on everything, ever. If the relationship matters very much and if the dispute is about something that’s largely theoretical, avoidance may be an effective choice.
However, avoidance isn’t always the answer. If you choose to engage, then here’s a consideration.
We reach our opinions in various ways. How can somebody reach an opinion that’s opposite of yours? If you want to know, ask them. My favourite, “Help me understand how you came to this… ” is one way to encourage a conversation.
You won’t learn much through an argument, though, so consider this information-gathering. If you start with the idea you are going to change their mind, you’ll likely be disappointed. You may even end up with a more damaged relationship than if you hadn’t talked at all.
So if you feel the urge to say, “But, but..” practice holding it in. Your goal is to learn about the other person, not to convince them, no matter how wrong they are sure to be.
You will learn something. You will learn what their influences are, who they respect. You may learn something about their needs—whether they are most driven by survival/safety, freedom, belonging, etc.
If the relationship is important, then it may be worth really getting to know the person. That starts with conversation.
Do your opinions conflict with those of people you care about? How do you handle it?

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