We have all had experiences of arguments where we feel like we’re talking to a wall. No matter how you phrase it, the other person just seems to be incapable of understanding what you’re saying. At some point you might as well just give up because it feels like there’s no point. Or maybe you get so frustrated and angry that the whole thing escalates into a fight. In the end, probably both of you have left the conversation convinced that the other person is a complete idiot with no understanding of how the world works.
When discussing topics that divide people, we usually focus on what is right or wrong or what is true or false. Because we look at things from different perspectives, two people disagreeing can both be right at the same time. To a fish, a swimming duck looks like a pair of paddling feet, whereas a fox only sees the part of duck that is on the surface. Or a meal. Yet both see the same duck.
Trying too see things from a different perspective can be hard…
Unlike fish and foxes, people have the ability to exchange ideas in a conversation. And more importantly, people are able to engage in dialogue. A dialogue is not just about two people expressing their thoughts or opinions about a certain topic, It’s about trying to understand the way other people see and experience the world, their perspective.
You can’t make someone understand an idea from your own perspective. To be able to make someone understand your opinion, you need to be able to explain why you see it in that light, and also to understand how the other person might feel differently. So it doesn’t really matter who’s wrong or who’s right, that is what people usually focus on, it’s about understanding why and how the other person sees things differently.
… but it pays off.
There are many things that give us a perspective, and one of the most powerful perspectives we have is given to us by our culture. If you grow up in a country where it’s not customary for women to be part of the working life, it can be hard to understand why that should be the case. If you grow up in a secular society, it can be hard to understand the role spirituality can play in people’s lives. The more our experiences differ, the more different are our perspectives, and the more difficult it becomes to understand one another. It takes will to be able to do that.
When having conversations with people from different cultural backgrounds, the differences of our experiences become obvious, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to understand each other. People often see changing your mind as a bad thing. But in fact it can be good, as new ideas emerge when people aren’t afraid to open up and trust each other in a conversation.
In addition to having arguments with idiots, we’ve all had long, late night conversations with friends that stretch into the morning. Contemplating on life and the world, both of you walk out of the conversation with the feeling that you’ve learnt something new. You’ve deepened your understanding about things, and perhaps see things in a different light than before. This is what a fruitful dialogue is. So even though it’s not easy, don’t be afraid to have those late night conversations with people who might see things differently than you do. With or without a glass of wine, depending on your perspective.