Last week one of those group chain emails came across my desk. I normally just delete them immediately as I’m not a big fan of the “pressure” / manipulation / magical thinking they usually apply at the end to send it along. The threat or promise that something significant will happen to me based on me forwarding a mass email – the good old chain letter superstition – has never been anything I felt a genuine desire to agree to. And, with rare exceptions, the messages don’t seem all that noteworthy (speaking for my own in-box of course, perhaps your friends send you better ones!).
However, in keeping with our theme of exposing all-or-nothing thinking, this little paragraph, hidden in a much larger – “things life has taught me” – kind of email, stuck out to me as a statement that everyone would benefit from remembering every single minute of every single day – really, really (As Shrek would say!).
So, take a deep breath, let it out, be still for a moment and let yourself consider the following statement:
“Two people can look at the
thing and see something
Neither one is right or wrong.”
Consider the significance of this statement for your life as it is today. Consider the relationships you have now, or have walked away from, where the two of you just couldn’t see eye-to-eye, where one or the other of you tried to convince the other of their perspective while the other was doing the same thing, or simply refused to budge and see things your way.
Consider your distant past; your childhood. Consider the many, many situations that you still carry with you in your memory of people in your life judging you, criticizing you, making assumptions about what you were doing and why and then being unwilling to let their assumptions go and be open to really listening to you and believing that your perspective, although different from theirs, was also quite valid. Or perhaps even that they were completely mistaken in their assumptions about your actions and motives and abilities.
Consider the frustration, the sense of powerlessness, insignificance, the lack of safety and trust and respect you felt in any of the above situations where people were just not open to seeing your perspective on things, or even worse, wouldn’t see the validity in your perspective and wouldn’t let up until you agreed with them on theirs!:
- Because they either didn’t believe there was another perspective that could possibly be valid; or
- Because they were afraid, because of their all-or-nothing thinking, that if they dared acknowledged any truth or validity at all in your perspective it would immediately invalidate theirs completely.
People truly can see the same thing completely differently, it’s important to really get that, trust that, and know that on that gut level. It is also so very, very possible that people can acknowledge the truth in the other’s perspective and still believe what they believe.
Even if you can’t find any truth in the other’s perspective you can still safely acknowledge that they find truth in it, that it feels true for them, right now, with the knowledge and life experience they currently hold, while you sit, comfortably, peacefully, solidly, staying with what you believe. No anger needed. No defensiveness. No rigid holding on to your position. No annoyance, frustration or silent treatment or other passive aggressive means of pushing people away. Just you trusting that there is validity to your thought because it feels right to you based on the evidence and experience that you currently have. And trusting that if you hear or experience something that also seems valid you can choose to: incorporate that into your perspective, do nothing, or you can choose to let your old view go and take up the new one that now, in the light of new awareness, seems more valid (if indeed it does).
There is no shame or loss in admitting that another person’s perspective has validity, or even that it may be “right” or “more right” than the one you held before you heard theirs. You didn’t know what you didn’t know. You are free to take on new thoughts, new beliefs and new behaviours in light of your new life experiences. What is life for if not for learning? And how on earth can we learn if we won’t open ourselves to new experiences and new information? How can we learn if we are so fearful of being “wrong” that we don’t ask questions or openly admit what we don’t know or understand?
“Two people can look at the
thing and see something
Neither one is right or wrong.”
It isn’t either or. The other person isn’t bad or wrong for seeing things differently or for not agreeing with you (of course if they’re yelling at you or putting you down that’s not anything you have to stick around for). They’re just seeing it differently and not agreeing with you. You’re not bad either, regardless of the ultimate “rightness” of our perspective.
The old co-dependent training manual will say that you have to agree with everyone because if you don’t you’ll upset them, hurt their feelings, or offend them. The old training manual says that there can be only one “truth” and you are either right or you’re wrong and you do not want to be wrong, because that means you’re stupid; but you should be willing to stifle your truth and play dumb or agreeable if holding fast to your perspective would possibly make anyone else feel dumb or anger them. In this case you should pretend that you think you’re wrong but really believe that you’re right and begin to carry resentment towards that person and distance from them emotionally if not also physically. In the co-dependent manual you are being bad if you assert your beliefs or rights, regardless of how respectfully you do it.
That’s not exactly a recipe for fulfilling relationships with yourself or with anyone else. But it’s in the manual so you have to do it. Or do you?
Another option might be to commit the following thoughts to memory:
- More than one perspective can truly be valid (there are very, very few absolutes);
- If someone judges you or disagrees with you, it truly is only their perspective and therefore (again, with very, very few exceptions) their view is not absolutely right, regardless of how loud or insistent they get, for the whole world, just as you are not absolutely wrong;
- As long as you don’t buy into the old training that you’re not allowed to disagree or that there is an absolute “right” way and “wrong” way to think, you can comfortably and openly seek to understand the other’s perspective;
- Ask questions from a place of genuine interest about what they think, what leads them to think that, and what support they have found for their perspective. You may learn a lot about the subject or at the very least, you’ll learn a lot about how this person thinks and how they come to believe what they believe – very handy information.
- Also, ask questions about what they may be able to see in your perspective that makes sense to them, and whether they would be willing to allow you to explain how you came to your view.
Approaching differences of opinion in this way will teach you so much about others and their openness, their trustworthiness, their current level of all-or-nothing thinking, and thus your safety in the relationship, how free you are to be yourself, and their (and your) ability to really understand each other, even if you don’t ultimately agree on how to approach something.
This in my opinion is different from the standard “let’s agree to disagree.” Which, perhaps erroneously, I interpret as “I know I’m right and you won’t agree with me so I’m not going to talk to you about this anymore – when you decide to change your mind and agree with me I’ll talk to you about it again.”
In my experience, that is the mindset behind the “agree to disagree” approach. Rather than this old approach, I find it is very likely that if we just stay gently with a conversation and seek to understand the other person’s perspective while gently sharing ours, we will make sense of why they think what they think and, not only are we likely to learn something, but the relationship will undoubtedly deepen and trust will flourish.
Simply put, the more information you have about why people think what they think and do what they do, the more you will see that it’s not about you and you will be less and less prone to take things personally. Thus your confidence and security in yourself and your abilities in relationships will grow. This means you’re far less likely to feel anxious, insecure, and overwhelmed and thus, far less likely to even think about using food to cope.
Two people really can see the same thing differently, it happens more often than not. And if either of them is more interested in being “right” than in understanding the other’s perspective, the relationship will suffer greatly.
If however, both are more committed to loving and understanding themselves and each other than they are to being “right,” they will naturally be open to seeing the world through each other’s eyes, even if they ultimately find more merit in their original perspective.
This commitment to loving and understanding first will lead to open dialogue, safety and trust, and a feeling of mutual respect and maturity that can only lead to deepened intimacy and caring, even if you both continue to carry different view points. In fact, when you take the time to respect and seek to understand the other’s perspective you find quite quickly that usually they really do converge and that you do share some common ground, even if on the surface you seem miles apart.
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© Michelle Morand, 2010