I was reading some discussions on a web forum the other day. In one of the forums the discussion turned pretty ugly and personal. There was a legitimate topic being hotly debated. But at some point people started accusing other people of being disrespectful. It made me go back and see where the turning point happened.
When I reviewed the discussion it seemed to me that there wasn’t any disrespect at all. At least not at the point when if was first claimed. I won’t deny that it did eventually turn disrespectful. But what really happened is something that I think occurs too often. One poster confused disagreement with disrespect.
It seems like somewhere along the way we’ve lost the idea that it is possible to respectfully disagree. It seems if we can’t get agreement we at least want things to feel good. We want validation, we want the other party to admit we have good points.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that the other person isn’t being respectful…it just means they don’t agree. But we seem to have turned difference of opinion into a sin. If you don’t agree with me then you are evil.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about spirited, on-topic debate. I’m all for that. I’m talking about when disagreement leads to name calling or accusations of malice. That’s what really happened here. One person respectfully but bluntly disagreed. That should have been ok. But it wasn’t. The other person responded with “you’re an idiot” and started in with a list of reasons why. I probably don’t need to tell you that the discussion deteriorated from there.
I’ve worked with a lot of adolescents. This is a discussion I’ve had to have many times. I tell them “you don’t have to agree with me but you do have to be respectful. That means I get to say my opinion without being shouted down or being told to frak off (for you Battlestar Galactica fans). When I am done you are welcome to tell me you disagree.”
I don’t think this idea is being discussed enough, much less practiced. It feels to me that we are losing our ability to be respectful. I think it starts at the highest levels, like government, and goes down to our children. Let’s change that.
The next time you disagree with someone, check yourself. Let the other person have a strong opinion that disagrees with you. And don’t think less of him or her. Just realize that they have a different perspective. They know more, less or different information. They value certain information more or less than you. And their own strongly held opinion doesn’t lessen yours. In fact, their ability to hold their own opinion just strengthens your right to hold your own.
Let’s all agree about this – It is time to embrace respect.
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