Monday, March 22, 2010

Make it Work Monday: Agreeing to Disagree

I'd like to open by warning you that I will likely say some things initially that many of you will disagree with; I hope you'll stick around until the end anyhow.

Around here we're pretty excited about healthcare reform passing late last night. One of the things that resonated with us as Obama supporters was his commitment to healthcare for all Americans. I was a little discouraged last August, when it looked like it might never happen, when people were saying he should just focus on the economy and making claims about death panels. We believe that everyone deserves quality healthcare, that no one should be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition or have their insurance dropped because they are sick. We are against federal funding for abortion, and we are pleased with the deal struck between Bart Stupak and President Obama, in which the Hyde Amendment is upheld. As far as we are concerned, this bill is a very good thing.

Not everyone agrees with us.

I know! You are just shocked.

Not only are we in disagreement about the bill being a good thing, but many people do not agree with our assessment of the bill and what it does and does not provide. Particularly in the case of abortion, we've found that many, many people are not on the same side we're on (which is still the anti-abortion side, but not the anti-healthcare side--we're too tricky with this, I guess) and believe quite fervently that this bill will provide federally funded abortions for anyone who would like one. Some have come out with very strong opinions about this, and it has been insinuated that Obama is just like Hitler, that those of us who support Obama and healthcare reform would probably have voted for Hitler if he were running for the President of the United States, and pretty much if we support healthcare reform, we have turned our back on God and the unborn and are headed for destruction. I have been deeply offended by this. So last night, after reading many facebook comments and notes and status updates, I simply posted, "Thank you to everyone who continues to use facebook for fun things and not to condemn others. Seriously. Thank you."

Unfortunately, the timing of my status update and the timing of one of my husband's status updates led a friend, who has not accused us of being Hitler-loving baby killers, to believe that these sentiments were directed at her, as she does disagree with us about the healthcare bill and how it affects abortion funding. She wrote us a heartfelt e-mail saying that she was offended and explaining herself, plus mentioning that I had said some things during the election that hurt her. I was...surprised. I mulled it over while dropping Jarod off at work, then prepared my reply. Because this friend is important to me, and because I believe that we need to do a better job of treating each other like human beings, I wanted to convey to her that I understand her hurt, and if possible, I would like to agree to disagree. In the midst of messages back and forth today, I realized that there are some steps to be taken to effectively agree to disagree. This method is for e-mail correspondence, but could easily be used in a face to face situation. Here are the steps:

1. Issue an apology for any hurt you may have caused during the course of your disagreement, whether it was intended or not.

My knee jerk reaction in these situations is to defend myself, but when you are apologizing, it is not really an apology if you justify your actions. So it goes something like this, "I am sorry for anything I said/did that hurt you." No explanation of why what you said or did is justified, and definitely no accusations. Just. The. Apology. I hurt you. I'm sorry.

2. Repeat back in brief what they've told you, highlighting things you have in common.

Again, it's tempting in these situations to wax poetic regarding your own views and how high minded they are, to attempt to convert the other person to your side. They don't really want to come to your side, so don't do this. In this case, I confirmed that I understood her concern about healthcare since her sister is ill, and that I, too, believe that God cares for the unborn.

3. State your differences respectfully.

"I understand that you believe that (blank) is a good course of action, whereas I believe that (blank) would be effective." Try to avoid using words like better and best when you describe your viewpoint. This is simply an acknowledgment of what you disagree about.

4. Affirm that you value the friendship, and you hope that your common views will compensate for the points on which you disagree.

"I hope that, regardless of our difference in opinion, we can set this aside and focus on the things we enjoy together as friends."

5. Close it up with something nice.

If you are close to the person, by all means, close with "Love, (your name)." If it's an officemate or someone to whom you are less close, "Kind regards" works nicely.

In my experience, it is incredibly hard to keep my mouth shut entirely about things which I feel well-informed and/or passionate. The more I practice, the easier it gets, and I hope that by these experiences my compassion and understanding for other human beings increases, and my need to be right and make others see my point decreases. I'd like nothing better than for all of us to start treating each other like human beings instead of like adversaries. There is not one of us who is right about everything, who will not in his or her lifetime change positions on various issues and ideas. Let's treat each other like we know that deeply.

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