Dave calls it the "yabbits". You know, when someone says something you don't agree with, and you come back with "Yeah, but..." and then proceed to state your case. Or, could that just be me? I think not. In fact, I know not. A couple of years ago, I talked in one of my blogs about the initiative our priest was trying at our Episcopal church, called "For God's Sake, Listen!" The premise was that we would gather together in groups of 5 or so people and read a bit of information about a topic (we started out with something mundane like types of coffee, something about which I had no care, to be quite honest). Then we would proceed to talk about the topic, stating our views about it. The caveat was each person had one minute, uninterrupted, to share their thoughts. The next person (we just went around the circle) would not reply to the previous comments but would instead just simply state their own opinion. After everyone had their "minute" to share, we would then start the discussion. There were some interesting things I noticed about this protocol:
Dave and I have now been married for over 29 years. I have said before that we hold many different views about many different topics, some political, some not. Politically, we have often "canceled out" the other person's vote, joking that it made no sense to even go vote. But of course it does make sense, as it is our right and civic duty to cast our vote for what we believe, right?
What is not right, in my humble opinion, is to call each other names for what another person believes. This bugs me on so many levels, most of which stem from my belief that life would be pretty darn boring if we all agreed with each other. I think of Stepford Wives, in which the characters simply do what is expected of them despite their opinions that must stay hidden for some unknown reason. One thing Dave and I have learned to do is to try to avoid the "Yabbits" or responding against the other person's thoughts before we give the other person a chance to simply state what they believe and why they believe it. In the past few years, we have somehow adopted the practice of saying "You might be right about that" even if we don't agree, because as we all know, nobody has ALL the facts on most subjects, and much of what we see and hear in the news or social media is subject to interpretation....thus forming our opinions. We also always try to listen to the other person without interrupting their train of thought. When we do that, it seems that the volume of our conversation doesn't rise to a very high decibel level, as there is no need to raise your voice if the other person is not arguing with you or saying, "Yeah, but...".
I've been listening to Matthew McConaughey's Greenlights (2020) the last few weeks when I run. I love hearing him tell stories about growing up in Texas, but the thing that has most recently struck me as important is his story that he tells about being with two African tribesmen in a "nightclub" of sorts. He describes how a lady of the evening strolls through the establishment, and one of the men says something about her doing something wrong and immoral. The other man listens then says he believes she has a right to do whatever she wants. McConaughey describes how he thought about what both had said then weighed in, agreeing that what the first man said was "right". The man with whom he had agreed immediately turns on him, saying, "It is not about who is right! It is about 'do you understand?'" What a concept! Imagine if all the people who post provocative statements on Facebook (seemingly trying to prove their "right-ness") simply had conversations with others in an effort to understand others' views and to have their own understood? Stephen Covey (2004) thought this concept was important enough to make it one of the seven habits that would make people "highly effective". The habit is named "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." In other words, what is most important is not that we are understood but that we understand the points of view of others before imposing our own or bashing others' views. I have often quipped, "Do we want to BE right or do we want to make it alright?" I jokingly say my former answer would have been, "Can't I have it both ways?" But after further contemplation (and maybe a bit of wisdom with age and experience), I've realized that no matter how right I am in my "rightness", I'm not likely to change someone's opinion, especially if I steamroll over them with my own opinion. What is more important, however, to keeping solid relationships, I believe, is the ability to understand that people are going to have their own beliefs and opinions, and I can choose to accept those as the thoughts of that person or I can bang my head against a wall trying to get them to believe the same way I do (which is likely never going to happen). Since when has someone who is name-calling, gnashing their teeth, using foul language and overall acting like a toddler having a tantrum ever made you say, "You know what? You must be right about that. I am changing my opinion on that topic since you seem to be so passionate about it" ? Ummm....I'm guessing the answer is a resounding "NEVER". Instead, what if we listen to another state their opinion for a full minute without interruption (you'll be surprised to see how long that feels to the speaker, by the way), then take our own minute to state our own view without arguing against the other person's view? That is my challenge to each of you --- and to myself as well--- for the next few weeks. Ready to take the plunge, or should we argue about it?
Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic ([Rev. ed.].). Free Press.
McConaughey, M. (2020). Greenlights.