I concentrated on the salad. The conversation happening I wanted no part of. The salad, on the other hand, wasn't half bad.
It was during a recent work luncheon where the conversation had moved into politics. The mostly millennials sitting around me began discussing the political candidate they hated most and, should they get the opportunity, how to best kill this person.
Smothering was one option. Shooting another. Death by any means necessary seemed to be the joke of choice.
Oh look! A crouton.
I wanted to chalk it up to their youth. But, it had nothing to do with age and everything to do with an intolerance for an opposing viewpoint. And it has no age limit.
We can't agree to disagree anymore. A mob mentality has taken hold and, minus the crayons and milk mustaches, our political society resembles a kindergarten class.
Except kindergarteners stop fighting long enough to enjoy recess.
We appear to desire a society with one and only one opinion: our own. Otherwise, shut up or I'll shut you up. Generations earlier called that communism. By all reports, it wasn't the utopian initially believed.
What good do we do anyone, including ourselves, when our beliefs are never challenged? If what we believe is so weak it can't take criticism, we shouldn't believe it anymore.
Yes, them's fightin' words.
Bob and Weave
Being challenged with opposing viewpoints will either cause us to rethink our position or realize our position's weaknesses and strengths. It's healthy. It's strengthening. It takes maturity. And it's time to grow up and disagree.
Respecting a different opinion than our own is a necessary characteristic for any kind of success:
Want to be a good manager?
Allow your subordinates the freedom to express reservations about your new ideas.
Want to grow your audience base?
Listen for the need you aren't fulfilling.
Want to develop your craft?
Be open to constructive criticism from valid sources.
Want a close relationship with your family and friends?
Let them express an opinion different than yours without combativeness.
Eventually, of course, they disagreed. My girlfriend never looked more upset. I, on the other hand, couldn't stop smiling.
She wasn't amused.
"Why are you happy about this? Do you want us to fight?"
"Yep." For the first time since they started dating, I believed those two crazy kids might actually make it. "You're going to disagree at some point. More than once. It was always inevitable. Now you can figure out how to disagree and still keep communicating."
They both love me, by the way, which speaks far more of their forbearance than my loveliness.
Accepting and working through diversity of thought takes patience, wisdom, maturity, and far more out of us than shutting up all dissenters. That only takes being a bully.
So go out there. Find someone you can't stand talking to and talk to them. Listen. Take deep breaths. You don't have to agree. You don't have to even understand. Just listen without anger. Be considerate. Respect that their opinion is different, even if you can't imagine why.
Maybe, if you do, they will one day be willing to listen to you, too. And treat you with the same respect.
If not, try to stop arguing long enough to enjoy recess.