What I Am Learning During The Pandemic: Listening to Those I Disagree With
Updated: Apr 7, 2022
In our previous blog, Maryanne talked about what she has learned during the pandemic. This week, I’d like to share something I’m learning with you.
Persuading people has never been my strong side. I took a class in college on persuasion, where we had to persuade three people to give blood at a blood drive especially brought to campus for our class. You can say I was sweating it. I got three people mostly by begging and being miserable. To this day, I am still wondering why that class was so hard for me. I think it is because I don’t like to tell people what to do. As a therapist, I had to learn that my clients were not always able or ready to take what I knew was the right step for their mental health, no matter how persuasive I was about it. As a parent, I learned that cooperation cannot be coerced and that you cannot make someone do anything, least of all your very own child!
And as a person who has lived a bit of life, I have learned that arguments don’t work with those who are not willing to listen back. So how do you react to someone you disagree with from the bottom of your heart?
This is what I have been struggling with during this pandemic.
The disagreements people go through in person and online have gotten more polarized and entrenched since the pandemic started. I have been very surprised by what people say online--the same people I have a lot of respect for in person. Those who wouldn’t treat anyone with disrespect face-to-face seem to become very different people online. Of course, it is easier to say things online where people can be faceless, but I am still having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the people I admire in person could be so mean and degrading to those they disagree with online.
My face-to-face interactions have also not been immune to how entrenched and emotionally invested in their views people have become. I have people in my life whose views and convictions make very little sense to me and whose fear is driving them into conspiracy theories as a way of understanding what life has become. They listen to the same news I listen to and get something very different out of it.
When they share their views with me, they are not open to listening, discussion, or learning from one another. This is where I struggle. How do you respond to someone whose views are very strong, someone who is convinced they have the “truth”?
There is a lot of research out there that says that arguing about something has never persuaded anyone to change their views. In fact, arguing has made people cling to their views even more. We are not wired to change our minds if we are already a part of a group that holds the same beliefs (1). So arguing is not an effective strategy.
One practice that has been helping me is what I call “deep listening”: setting my own feelings and views aside and being fully present to what others need to share with me. I listen for their emotions underneath their views. Where do I hear fear? Where do I hear anxiety or loss? I can ask about those emotions and connect with them, since those are the same emotions I am feeling, just from a different side of the argument. I can have empathy and connect with that person’s humanity. Having this connection eases my own anxiety about their views and my need to persuade them otherwise. We can be human together.
But I am still learning how to do this and failing more than I would like. My own emotions do get triggered. When I get flooded with my own feelings, my mind goes blank and I don’t ask the questions I want to ask. I end up just listening to people’s rants and feel very lousy afterwards. I don’t know how to prevent my own flood of feelings very well, but I know that it has to do with me staying grounded and not playing into my own fears. Deep breaths and prayer help keep me grounded. Feeding my own soul and practicing self-care is also crucial because if I don’t have a reserve to draw from, I am not able to stay calm.
I try not to let my failures discourage me from trying again. I know that by practicing deep listening, I am doing something that is helping me grow and maintain a connection with people I could have serious arguments and disconnection from, the same people whom God loves as much as he loves me. And that is worth the effort and the failure.
How is dealing with people you disagree with going for you? What lessons are you learning?