July 11

When Is It Appropriate to Disagree?

July 11, 2016

Personal Growth

Laura called to say, “Since Real Love, I’m learning a whole new way of being. Everything is different. I talk differently, listen differently, act differently. But I have a question: my friends don’t know Real Love, so sometimes I don’t know how to talk to them anymore.”

“Example?” I asked.

“Yesterday I was talking to Roberta, and she tends to complain about things. She can find something negative in anything, and sometimes she pauses to see if I’m agreeing with her. At first I didn’t say much, but I found myself agreeing with her a lot by the end of the conversation. Why do you think I did that?”

“Because she wanted you to, and you agreed with her to get her approval.”

“Yeah, that’s it. So how can I do this? I don’t know whether to disagree with her or not.”

“You have to be yourself, your true self, or you’ll constantly be anxious about whether you’re pleasing people or not. But being yourself doesn’t mean always saying what you think. I can only think of a couple of reasons to disagree with someone talking to you.”

“Like what?”

“First, ask yourself if they’re willing to learn. Your friend complains a lot. She gets a sense of power, control, and victimhood from it. Is she so attached to those rewards that she can’t give them up, or is she actually willing to learn a different way to live?”

“What would that look like to teach her?”

“You could show her how the problems she complains about are simply part of life—they’re opportunities to learn to be loving and responsible—rather than personal assaults on her.”

“Oh, she couldn’t hear that.”

“Then there’s no reason to disagree with her. Just nod your head and indicate that you’re genuinely listening, which is mainly what she wants anyway.”

“But then I get tired of it.”

“At which point you get to practice being yourself. It’s great practice. You can change the subject, or—if she refuses to do that—you can simply tell her that you don’t want to complain about other people and things, and that you’d rather talk about something else. If that is too threatening—either for her or for you—you simply tell her you have something else to do or someplace to be, and you end the conversation. It’s actually pretty easy once you’ve done it a few times.”

“What’s the second reason to disagree with someone?”

“When it’s necessary. If your friend asks you to meet her for lunch at a place on Monday, but you know it’s closed that day—or they don’t serve anything you can eat—then you voice your disagreement.”

We tend to disagree with people on a great many occasions that are unnecessary: what day of last week we did something, the number of people who attended an event, the color of Susie’s outfit, political and religious issues. These disagreements wear on us. They wear on our relationships and our happiness. We simply need to pay more attention to when we disagree.

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