I had a conversation the other day that felt like it was teetering on a razor’s edge, almost doomed to enter a non-politically correct territory with one wrong word.
The topic? Children who decide to change genders.
It was a difficult, and fascinating, discussion over lunch with some friends last week. Each person at the table brought valid perspectives that I understood well, and I agreed with many of them.
But something kept bothering me..
Everyone at the table had their own opinion on the matter, many of which overlapped quite significantly – yet there was still a strong debate going on. Despite the group agreeing in principle on a great many things, each member chose to spend time discussing the things that were not in alignment between us.
Each of us was somehow drawn to the differences in opinion rather than the overlap—and with that shift in focus comes a sacrifice of what could be discussed, and built, in the overlap.
How often we find ourselves magnetized to how different we are from others, or from the world. This attention to the “different” can lead to judgment, both of ourselves and others. Judgment leads to separation, and separation is against our nature as human beings. We are social creatures, born to be part of this world, not separate from it.
Marcus Aurelius spoke about this in his Meditations, explaining how the competing philosophical schools in the imperial period all identified as philosophers first: “Adherents of most of the major schools—the Platonists, Peripatetics, Cynics, and Stoics—preferred to focus on the points they shared, rather than those that separated them.”
So I spoke up at the lunch table…
“I think the important thing to keep in mind with this discussion is the matter of respect. We don’t know what’s going on in other peoples’ lives, so it’s impossible to pass judgment, no matter how well-intentioned that judgment may be. If we, and if everyone, simply have respect for the people affected by this issue, we may be able to learn something new.”
We all live in this world together. We can’t all be kings and queens. In fact, nobody can, no matter what title you place next to their name. We share this world—you, me, and every other human being on this planet. Which means we can either coexist peacefully or live lives filled with hatred, war, and conflict.
I vote for coexisting peacefully, and I would imagine you do, too. To do that, we need to find a way to agree on a great many things—the overlap. Once we do that, we can build from there. Focusing on what doesn’t align only leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of separation and judgment.
After I shared my thoughts on respect with my lunch partners, they relaxed a little bit. I took a hard turn with the conversation and had given them something to agree on. After a good ten minutes of a conversation teetering on the brink of disaster, finally: common ground. What’s more, I gave them a new lens through which they could look at the issue, which led to a much more productive discussion.
Today, I invite you to pay close attention to discussions you’re part of. Seek out the similarities rather than the differences. If the differences really can’t be reconciled, bring respect to the conversation and find a way to disagree with dignity. You may be surprised where it gets you.