Although I like to think that most often my opinions are right, I admit that my husband, Jim, is often more accurate about facts than I am. I might say, “Hey, there were about 50 people at the party.” Jim might say, “No, there were 46. I counted.” I chalk this up to different personality styles.

In this post, however, I will  not be dealing with these kinds of facts, nor job situations where there’s a chain of command and a verifiable right way to do something. Rather, I’d like to focus on human relationships and how the conviction that I am right can sometimes be counterproductive. It can keep me from seeing the whole truth and finding effective ways to convey my views to another. It can also make me obnoxious.

For example, in this contentious political season, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to talk with people who have a different idea of what is the right course for our country. (See Going Beyond My Bubble and Political Conversations posts). There are three possibilities:

  • I may be right. But convincing others of this may not be helpful. This applies to family relationships, friendships, and politics.
  • I may be wrong – at least occasionally. 😉
  • Both of us may have part of the truth.

As my thinking has matured on this subject, I’ve learned a lesson from Jake Sullivan’s interview with Charlie Rose (Aug. 10, 2017). To summarize this 54 minute video I now see the wisdom of

  1. Checking for the flaws in my own position. Even though I might think I’m mostly right, there may be parts of what I believe that are weak or could be challenged. Am I willing to change and improve my original position?
  2. Checking for the truth in my adversary’s position. Even if I think the other’s position is fatally flawed, there may be a kernel of truth in it. Otherwise, why would they hold it so strongly? Is there a need or a fear that they are trying to address?

Once this exploratory truth seeking task is done, several implementation steps occur to me.

  1. Exercise “Silence of Words.” (This terminology comes from the Marianist “System of Virtues.” It basically means “Shut up, pause, and listen.”) This intentional pause allows time to hear the other express their opinion and for me to show that I understand their position and respect them even though I may continue to disagree.
  2. Exercise “Mindfulness of Words.” This means I speak but not out of anger or desire to win the debate. After recognizing any basic truth or agreement I have with parts of the other’s position, I express my own position.
  3. Let your life speak. An alternative or addition to #4 is not to debate anything, but rather to let my actions show my values. If I want to combat racism, I treat all people with respect. If I want to reduce poverty, I spend my time and money supporting programs that lift people out of poverty. If I want to protect the environment, I myself reduce, reuse, and recycle, and then support the environmental movement.
  4. Be Mindful. This isn’t just about speaking carefully, but rather carrying a consciousness of others and the world around me as I go about my daily life. How is each person, animal, or thing I see or hear during the day drawing me out of myself to recognize a bigger truth, a sacred presence?