How can our differences bring us together?
In my previous article I wrote about whether our differences can bring us together. Now I would like to think about how this might happen. At first glance it may seem like an impossible task. We seem to be more polarized daily and attracted to extreme situations. This only causes resentment and difficult and destructive feelings for any loneliness. What does it take to reverse this trend?
I think the key lies in how we look and think about ourselves and others. Don Miguel Ruiz proposed four agreements that we should conclude with ourselves based on Indian Toltec practices. His son, without Jose Ruiz added a fifth agreement. I have written about these in the past too. Let’s think about how these agreements might lead us in our interactions with others and help us use our differences constructively.
The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word.
This means saying what you mean and what you say. It also involves only speaking the truth. Lies lead to mutual distrust. We will not reach an agreement with others if we lie to them.
The second agreement is not to take anything personally. It must be remembered that people say and do things for their own purposes, whether they are expressing their beliefs or working towards what is important to them. They will not attack you unless both of you agree to the conflict. Remember that you also act for your own benefit and do no harm to anyone either.
The third agreement is not to make assumptions. Sometimes, we tend to think that others think the same way we believe or the exact opposite. Do you like it when someone takes something for you? If you find yourself with these assumptions, find a nice way to verify them and not initiate an argument or war in the process.
The fourth agreement is to always do your best. Do not expect perfection from yourself or others. Can you do better? If someone disagrees with your approach, try listening first and explaining the second.
The fifth deal is to be skeptical but learn to listen. You are not always right and only you. There is nothing wrong with questioning your opinions as well as the opinions of others. What evidence do you base your beliefs on? Can you hear each other without attacking? Take practice.
There is a tradition that has passed through many thinkers. Before you speak, it is wise to ask yourself whether what you want to say is true (Agreement 1), whether it is necessary (Agreement 5) and whether what you say is nice (Agreement 4). This does not mean that you need to examine every word that comes out of your mouth, but it indicates that you need to pay attention to what you say and the impact of your words on others.
Even more important than what you say is how you listen.
If you are considering ways to tackle everything you hear, it will be a short conversation. How different it would be if you listened well and asked for clarification on anything you do not understand or disagree with.
If you can do this with every person you meet and others can do the same with you, then we will have made a good start toward resolving our differences. Try it.
Joseph J. Langen is the author of eleven books: Common Wisdom for Daily Life, Young Man of Cloth, Mobility in Life, Hell of a Priest, Releasing Stress and Reclaiming Your Life, Making the Most of Your Teenage Years, From Violence to Peace, How to Transform Your Anger, How to Find Peace, and What You do about violence and stress that has been mentioned for a while. See more on his writing at