AGREE TO DISAGREE Dr. Richard Carlson
We’re all unique and see life a little bit differently. We have our own preferences, and we interpret things in our own special ways. Since we were all brought up and taught to think in certain ways, we have our own subtle ways of resolving conflicts, as well as our own theories as to why things happen. Each of us places varying degrees of significance on what’s really relevant and important, and we can almost always find fault with the someone else is thinking or behaving. We can usually validate our own versions of reality by focusing on examples that, we believe, prove us to be right. In short, the way we see life will always seem justified, logical, correct – to ourselves.
The problem is, everyone else has the same assumption. Our spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors – and everyone else – are equally convinced that their versions of reality are the most accurate! It’s absolutely predictable that the people in your life will not understand why you don’t see things the way they do and will think, if you did, all would be well. Knowing this is true, why, then, do most of us continue to be frustrated and annoyed by the fact that we seem to disagree so often? Why are we so easily bothered when someone we know or love expresses a different opinion or viewpoint, interprets something differently, or thinks we are wrong? I believe that the answer to these questions are very simple: We forget that, in a psychological sense we, all live in our own separate reality. The way we interpret life and the events around us has been influenced by a variety of factors that are completely unique to our own life. My childhood and life experiences were (and continue to be) different from yours, so my take on life is going to be slightly different. An event that annoys me might seem completely insignificant to you and vice versa.
The trick to becoming more peaceful and less reactive is to remind yourself that it’s okay that we’re all a little different. Rather than being surprised by this fact of life, you can learn to expect even embrace it. Rather than becoming upset when someone you love disagrees with you, try saying to yourself, “Of course she’s going to see this differently.” instead of becoming defensive when your interpretation of an event is different from someone else’s, see if you can be grateful and delighted on those rare occasions when you do see things in the same way. You can “agree to disagree.” This doesn’t mean that your own point of view is any less important or correct, only that you don’t have to be so frustrated by the fact that others won’t always agree with you or see things in the same light. In many instances, you may want to stand firm on your own opinions and values, and that’s fine, but you can do so with genuine respect and understanding of the other person’s opinion as well. When you do this, it eliminates a great deal of stress and good number of would-be arguments. In most cases, the person you are disagreeing with will sense your heartfelt respect and will probably be less reactive toward you as well. In addition, as you incorporate this less-reactive attitude into your interactions with others, you will find yourself becoming more interested in the opinions of others, which will make you more fun to be around. You’ll learn to bring out the best in others and you’ll allow others to bring out the best in you! Everyone wins. I have seen this simple shift in perspective help many marriages, friendships, and family relationships. It’s very simple and makes life a lot more fun. So, starting today, see if you can agree to disagree. It’s well worth the effort.