The endless cycles of social discourse include periods of extreme heat followed by cooling. Today, we’re sitting right in the fire.
Hot periods are distinguished by issues that simply can’t be ignored. We’re debating several highly contentious issues right now. Whether you’re an activist or an observer, it seems that everyone has an opinion and a vested interest in the outcomes. Whether you’re in front of a microphone, arguing around the water cooler or over the dinner table it seems that nobody is staying out of the fight. Can we maintain any sense of civility, decorum and respect as we debate the extremely emotional social issues that demand our attention and involvement?
I say yes, and it’s simple- but not easy. Emotions are our most pervasive human traits, and yet still the least understood. We know more about the conditions on Pluto than we know about the human mind, heart and soul. In order to have a civil exchange of ideas we’ve got to preserve one rule- the Rule of Respect.
Respect does not mean appeasement, acquiescence or even acceptance. It means a basic compassion or caring- a recognition that no matter how different, the person I differ with is made of the same human substance. It’s an acknowledgement of the humanity of even my enemy.
Respect and compassion are possible only through strength, confidence and courage. Weakness is a poor substitute for authentic compassion and makes you vulnerable and hyper-sensitive to threats- real or perceived.
Frankly, it’s easier to be weak- especially if you depend on someone else to take care of you or to fight your battles for you. In the long run, this type of weakness is a cancer; it devours your emotional and spiritual resources. On a societal level, our tolerance for weakness has created a dangerous environment of complacency, political correctness and hyper-sensitivity. This type of weakness creates the conditions for societal complacency and leaves the door open for abuse, exploitation and despotism.
Too often people confuse respect and compassion with only kindness or tolerance.
“On the other hand, kindness can sometimes mask less than honorable intentions. Let’s define compassion as genuine empathy and caring for others founded in a sincere desire to do good. In this sense, compassion transcends legality and popular opinion. We’re back to doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do; not always the most popular or best supported position.
“Never mistake my kindness for weakness, nor my silence for ignorance.” From Think Like a Black Belt.
So- how do you express respect for someone who, in your opinion, is absolutely wrong? How do you respectfully defend or express your feelings on an issue in the face of anger, intolerance and even ignorance?
As part of my “Respect, LIVE IT” workplace program I do a session that focuses specifically on how to debate even political issues with respect. An old saying goes, “When you assume you only make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” In reality, you do need to embrace 5 “Ass-Umptions” if you have any hope of debating a hot button issue respectfully:
1) Assume that not everyone shares your point of view. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong- you can assume not everyone will agree.
2) Assume the other guy is entitled to his opinion- because he is!
3) Assume that the other person has a rational reason for his opinion- whether he does or not! Until you fully engage in the debate you won’t know the rationale of the other person. If you don’t make this Ass-Umption, you’ll never know.
4) Silence does not always confirm agreement. Don’t assume that because someone is staying quiet that they agree with you. It’s safer to assume that their mind is not made up. The other guy may think you’re a complete ass and is just too polite to tell you so!
5) Assume that everyone IS entitled to two things: Their thoughts and their feelings. Thoughts and feelings are personal property whether you agree with those thoughts and feelings or not.
It’s difficult if not impossible to control emotions. Emotions are simply a physiological response to physical and psychological stimuli. What we can do is learn to control our response to those emotions. Self-control is a valuable tool for effective communication and respectful debate. Name calling is childish- any two year old can pitch a fit and uninformed accusations display ignorance. If you want to make your point credible, exercise restraint.
In right versus wrong issues it’s fairly simple, if not always easy to simply step up and present the facts. In most cases, a clear statement of reason will win the argument. When both sides have a legitimate claim to the right side of an argument, it’s extremely important to understand the oppositional perspective whether you agree or not.
Our most contentious issues are right versus right.
I’m all for open, passionate and even heated debate. We can express ourselves passionately without denigrating our opponent, using inflammatory language and insulting labels. To do so requires a high level of respect, self-control and strength. It requires strength, confidence and courage to acknowledge the right of another person to his or her opinion- even when they’re wrong and you’re right!
Some time ago I did a short video on respectful political discussions in the office. I’ve become a bit more blunt since this was done, but you may still find this useful!
If you’d like to host our Respect: LIVE IT program at your business, college or university call 800-786-8502 for booking information.
“What can I say about Jim Bouchard- a GREAT deal! He is the alpha professional with a quiet demeanor that makes you want to implement his ideas ASAP. This is a motivational speaker you want to book for your event ASAP. In addition, his new book Think Like a Black Belt, is a must read!”
Dr. John Tantillo
“The Marketing Doctor” & FOX News Contributor
Marketing Department of America