How to Be Civil To Someone With Whom You Disagree

There has been so much dissension in my country (U.S.A) lately, especially when people talk about politics or something they are passionate about.  I’m sure the same is true in other countries as well.  This can be seen most evidently on social media platforms, where people feel that they can say whatever they want, with no filters whatsoever.  The negative political advertisements do us no favors either as far as the dissension problem is concerned.

This past Sunday at church, we were a having question and answer discussion to find out about the pastoral candidate (My current pastor is leaving. He has been at the church for over 40 years!), and the candidate made this wise statement that we all should learn to heed (paraphrased-emphasis mine): Even if I don’t agree with you on everything, I agree to disagree. 

I understand that it can be difficult to be civil to someone who vehemently disagrees with something you are passionate about.  I know, because when I was younger, I used to be combative against people who mocked or disagreed with that which I was passionate about. However, I have learned these following things about how we all can be civil to those whom we disagree:

  1. Remember the inherent value of the person whom you disagree with is not dependent on what they believe.—Society has perpetuated the lie that your worth is dependent on what you do or what you believe.  This has resulted in attacks and dissensions over the most trivial things!  However, if we remembered that the person who disagrees with us is still someone with a family and with a life, we would probably be more respectful and compassionate in relating with them.  Yes, beliefs and ideas DO have consequences, especially when they translate into actions, but attacking a person’s character based on what they believe will not get them to change their opinions or their convictions. In fact, it will often make the person hold on to their beliefs even tighter and your contrasting beliefs something to be mocked by them simply because they now equate what you believe with how you acted towards them!
  2. Find common ground—Yes, the person whom you disagree with may have a different way of thinking than you, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find similarities in your beliefs or goals with them. For instance, both Republicans and Democrats want to better their society in which they live in, but they may go about it in different ways.  Also, regardless of religious belief or philosophy of life, the common ground one can find with one who disagrees with them is that they both want to better their lives, and, most likely, those of others.  Finding common ground will not only deescalate any potential arguments you may have with the person who disagrees with you, but may also serve to unite you with them in some way.
  3. Never attack the other person’s character, but focus on much as possible on why you disagree.—When you attack the person whom you disagree with, instead on focusing instead on the issue or issues which you differ, you have already lost their respect and listening ears.  Yes, I understand that debates and disagreements can get heated, but when we attack someone’s character or who they are inherently, we not only lose our own sense of integrity and respect, but we devalue their inherent worth as human being as well.
  4. Find out why they believe as they do.—Instead of coming across as combative and argumentative, ask questions. Find out why they believe as they do. For instance, a person may have certain views because of what they have experienced in life, both good and bad. For instance, if you find out a person doesn’t drink because he or she has seen the negative effects of alcohol in their family, you can better understand where they are coming from when they want the legal age to buy alcohol to be raised even higher. Sometimes people believe the way they do because of what others have told them, or misconceptions they had picked out along the way. If you find out they believe  a misconception of your view, you can respectfully and lovingly clear that up with the truth.

These are some of the things that I have learned to do in being civil with another person whom I disagree. So, when you voice your opinions and come across someone that doesn’t think as you do, whether it be on social media or in person, remember the value of the person is not based on what they believe; find common ground; never attack the person’s character, and find out why they believe as they do.  Finally, if all else fails, you should strive to just agree to disagree. However, if we more consistently applied these principles, this world would be a much more peaceful and unifying place.

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