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  • Writer's pictureJason Cook

Learning from People Who Disagree with You

Everybody has to deal with disagreements, but not all disagreements are equal. Minor disagreements can bring a little good-natured humor into our relationships. However, serious disagreements can cause tension we’d rather avoid. And then, there are the kinds of disagreements that touch a raw nerve. They seem to provoke our deepest political and religious convictions, or they threaten our greatest insecurities.

Disagreements that threaten our sense of identity make it difficult to have a civil conversation. They tempt us to cut off relationships in order to protect ourselves. But these are exactly the disagreements that can provide unique opportunities for personal growth if we know how to reframe them.

We tend to think of learning as the process of gaining information. It’s usually obvious when this kind of learning takes place. But there are some things we learn without even realizing it. For instance, we learn how to make sense of the world. This learning is slow, indirect, and largely subconscious. It forms our perspective.

Our perspective has been shaped by a thousand little coincidences—when and where we were born, what stories we loved as children, the opportunities given to us, the tragedies we endured, the habits of people who love us, and the quirks of people we dislike.

Our perspective has enormous consequences for our communities. It governs our values and priorities. It shapes our attitudes toward people and to cultures that are different than ours.

The disagreements that touch upon our deepest convictions alert us to potential blind spots. They remind us that other people are shaped by different stories, opportunities, and tragedies. They give us an opportunity to learn about why other people see things differently than we do.

So, when conflicting perspectives rise to the surface of a relationship, we can take that as a cue that perhaps we don’t understand someone else’s point of view. Instead of viewing disagreement as a contest that threatens our core convictions, we can reframe it as an opportunity to discover how others have been influenced by their experiences.

We don’t have to ultimately agree with each other to learn from each other. But learning does require humility, patience, thoughtful questions, and careful listening. Making the effort to understand someone else’s perspective can help us overcome some of the blind spots caused by our own limited point of view. It can help us become wiser. And if we are fortunate, we may even gain a deeper, truer friendship.

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