Thursday, June 2, 2011

Agree to Disagree

As a professional etiquette expert, I find myself engaging in a lot of discussions both in person and on line about various topics related to my field. In fact some of the more interesting conversations relate to the different ways people from different countries get
through the day whether it be conducting themselves in business or socially while dining with friends and family. Even among so-called experts there seem to be opinions which conflict. This unfortunately leads to a lot of confusion when such simple questions such as what to do with your napkin while leaving the table or where to place dessert cutlery when setting the table arise. These discussions seem to go round and round endlessly with all parties involved terribly concerned about defending their theory as being the truth, and unwilling to stop until proven right.

This same pattern of behavior occurs in many aspects of our lives. Sometimes the differing points of view are very subtle and of little if any real consequence anyway. In the minds of those holding the differing points of view though, they become as large as life and worth defending to the point of incivility. How many of these "critically important" matters are even remembered a week later? There may be some merit in reminding ourselves of this point when we begin to feel our blood pressure rise as we ready our defenses.

What is interesting about being human is our need for acceptance. In order to form a healthy sustainable society, we need to be friends with, or at the very least, trust one another. We rely on other people in our community for many important reasons. There are modern day hunters and gathers, warriors and guardians, and teachers and sages. They are the people who grow our crops, prepare, process, package and purvey our sustenance. They are the protectors of our borders and help preserve our chosen way of life. They allow one generation to follow another with the knowledge and wisdom needed to maintain the very society in which we live. The more accepting and understanding we are of the people whose lives intersect ours, the happier life is for everyone.

Today, there seems to be a growing need to be right. As we zoom through our busy schedules, we seem to find time to stop and make sure that those around us not only accept us, but agree with us as well. The idea that what we believe and the principles by which we live our lives is the right way, the truth if you will, leads to a separation of sorts and ironically leads us on a path towards rejection - an unhealthy ingredient in any attempt to be a part of society and certainly not what we really want and need.

To strike a balance which we can all live with, we eventually come to the realization that we need to compromise on certain of our strongly held beliefs and principles. This does not mean that we have to change our value systems by altering our principles. It means that we must develop the ability to agree to disagree. Herein lies a fundamental human value - compassion. This means having compassion for friends and family, but more importantly, to have compassion for ourselves. We need to give ourselves a break, to take a time out, or simply to chill. As we develop this ability, we realize that what we have found is a deep respect for one another. By understanding that a healthy society can be homogeneous as long as we are respectful of one another, our lives can become more relaxed and we can become more accepting of those around us without necessarily agreeing with everything they think, say or do.

Because needing to be right is usually expressed as a form of bullying, whether it be in the office or at home, we would do well to be more aware of when we adopt these behaviors ourselves. By noticing when and why we take certain actions or make some statements, we can then begin to change them. We can begin to set examples for our children and our friends by being more tolerant and compassionate. One of the benefits of not always being right is that we don't have the burden of responsibility which comes with upholding, even defending our principles. Let the other person be 'right' for a change. Take a time out every now and again. It's amazing how, by putting other people ahead of ourselves, our own lives change for the better and our self esteem improves. Agreeing to disagree can make for a kinder gentler world.