Last week I talked about my relationship with a friend who did some pretty terrible things, Ellen Degeneres’s friendship with George Bush and Dallin H. Oaks’s comments about not letting one’s love for your fellow man overrule one’s love of God.
All of us try to strike a balance between standing up for what we believe in and being kind. But how we draw those lines change from person to person.
Below are a couple of suggestions I have for drawing those lines.
First, find areas of similarities.
The first thing we should do whenever we run into someone who we disagree with strongly is try to find areas of agreement. Let me be a bit more specific.
Let’s say you found someone who you disagree with on the issue of taxes. I’m not saying you should find some feel-good similarities about how you both love the country and you both want what’s best for it, although it’s helpful to remind yourself of this too.
I’m talking about finding programs that you both can agree on should be either funded or cut in one way or the other. Do you agree that we should better fund veteran health care programs? Do you both think it’s a bad idea to subsidize sports stadiums?
Start from where you agree and move on to your disagreements.
Starting from a place of agreement is helpful because it allows us to see the humanity in people who think differently than us. Nothing says we have to agree that taxes should or shouldn’t be spent on health care, but at least you can understand where the other person is coming from, rather than making a caricature of their beliefs.
Second, if you can’t discuss an issue instead of a person, work on that some more.
There’s a lot of whataboutism in public discourse. People object to President Trump detaining undocumented families and the response is rarely “This is why it needs to happen,” and instead it’s “What about when Obama did it?”
This is a basic lesson we’re supposed to learn when we were kids. Just because Susie hit you during recess doesn’t mean you now get to hit her. If it doesn’t work at recess it shouldn’t work in politics.
People are not good or bad. We see ourselves as the heroes of our own story. It’s our actions that are good or bad, and we all justify ourselves in doing a lot of bad things in life. If you think you don’t do that, reach out to me, I’ll help you find ways in which you have. We need to make sure we’re discussing actions and not people.
That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with person X, but you disagree with them because of something they did, not simply because they exist. Talking about how a person is bad, and not their actions, only acts to dehumanize others making it even easier to treat them poorly.
Focusing on their actions and the consequences of those actions forces you treat them like human beings and see their side of things. It also forces you to have a conversation about problems and solutions. These conversations are much less likely to result in divisive cruelty than conversations about people.
Third, make a point of reading things from the other side, not just your own.
One time, I unfollowed every news outlet and talking head I was following on social media, and I replaced them with other outlets who “the other side” got their news from. It was a great experience.
It helped me see things from another point of view. It helped me see what people on the other side said to each other and not what people on my side were saying about them. It’s amazing what people say and do when they believe they’re among like-minded believers.
With few exceptions, they’ll see themselves as helping others and lifting them up. When you can see people how they see themselves and when you can at least understand how they view the world, it becomes more difficult to be a jerk to them. Who knows, you may experience some growth yourself.
Of course, there are times where lines must be drawn. I’d like to assume that most of us recognize that being friends with Hitler or even a neo-Nazi would be a bad idea. So when do we draw the line?
First, draw a line when an ideology is built on tearing something down and not building something up.
If someone’s ideology is built on ethnic supremacy or simply undoing the work of someone else, it’s time to draw the line. I get that every elected official is going to try and reverse certain policies of their predecessor, but there’s a difference between that and trying to undo an entire legacy.
Second, if someone isn’t willing to play fair with you, you should draw the line. What I mean here is, you’re going to have a hard time accommodating someone unwilling to accommodate you. You can’t have an open and honest relationship with someone who isn’t open and honest in return.
Neither of these things justifies meanness, they just mean you should put a relationship on hold until they can come around.