There’s a scene in the movie Anchorman, where Ron Burgundy tries to explain to Veronica how San Diego got its name. After she rubbishes his first crazy theory he tries to tell her that the real translation of San Diego was lost centuries ago.
She says, “Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?” To which he says, “Agree to disagree.”
Agreeing to disagree is a powerful communication technique, and not just out of laziness or ignorance like Ron Burgundy. Its one of the ways we can stay friends with people who have very different ideas, and one of the ways we can stay sane in families full of diverse, outspoken people.
It happened to me just recently. She just wouldn’t let it go; like a dog with a bone. I thought we were done, and I had moved on. It was something we tried and it didn’t pan out. So in my mind we had agreed to disagree and go our separate ways. But then she kept writing, with more and more reasons why she was right and I was wrong.
It reminded me of the Zen story about two monks traveling through woods.
They come upon a woman standing at the bank of a river. She needs to get across, but is unable to make it alone. The elder of the two monks picks her up and carries her through the rushing water. Once they’re safely on the other side, the woman goes on her way. The younger monk is stunned. Its part of their vows that they’re not allowed to touch women , and he doesn’t know what to make of his older friend’s behavior.
Finally, after stewing over the incident for several miles, he says to his traveling companion, “How could you touch that woman back at the river the way you did? Have you no respect for our vows?” The elder monk turns to his young friend and says, “Are you still carrying that woman? I put her down at the river bank over an hour ago.”
The older monk had no need to argue the point. He had moved on. Sometimes peace of mind is more important than right and wrong. Imagine how many of our conflicts would end the minute we stopped carrying ancient history around in our hearts, put down the past and the need to be right, and moved on?
You know what I’m talking about. You’ve had your own experiences, likely on both sides of it. A relationship ends but one or both parties can’t truly let go until they feel “right” and the other person feels”wrong”. You find yourself in an argument, fighting a battle that doesn’t really matter to you, but you fight on anyway.
These sorts of fights are hard to end once two or more egos start butting heads. So how do we get beyond butting egos?
5 Ways to Agree to Disagree
Here are 5 principles for dealing with conflict, ways you can master yourself enough to know which battles are worth fighting, which are better left alone, and how to handle them.
1. Don’t attend every argument you’re invited to.
We try to draw each other into conflict.We bait each other. It makes us feel powerful. So refuse to play the game. Feel secure enough in yourself that you don’t need drama to feel alive. Once you give yourself permission NOT to enter the fray at every opportunity you allow yourself time to think about whether this is really something worth fighting for.
2. Do no harm, but take no shit.
Anger is almost ALWAYS a case of mistaken identity. Most conflict directed towards us is a projection of another person’s frustration. Be kind to others when you sense this happening, but don’t buy into it. Just wish them well and move on. Getting involved in other peoples’ anger is like the Irishman who found two people brawling in the street and asked, “Is this a private fight or can anyone get involved?” Another person’s anger is NOT your fight. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is about leaving other people to deal with their own issues and choosing not to buy into it.
3. Own Your Own Shit
Other people don’t usually cause you pain. Intentionally or not, they remind you of pain you already had; pain that may have decades of history behind it, and it’s too painful to really address, so it just turns up all over your life, a shadow lurking in every dark corner. You fight the shadows, but of course there’s nothing real there. Once you learn to recognize (and own) your own pain, reasons for conflict disappear and agreeing to disagree becomes easy.
4. Respect Others Perspectives Without Giving Up Your Own
Aristotle said it well,
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
There is a way that everyone can win, without anyone giving up their values. It’s called empathy. The beautiful thing about empathy is that you can feel another persons pain as if its your own and this empathy brings compassion, but you don’t have to save them or solve their problem. You can understand another person’s perspective without giving up your own. You can respect another person’s opinion without agreeing with them.
5. Separate the person from the perspective
Lets face it, we all have our moments. We all say things we regret. We all change our minds. If we see each other with compassion, then we can forgive an awful lot of what happens. See people are people first, and then you have a frame of compassion to hold any perspective.
San Diego IS probably named after a Portuguese explorer, but it doesn’t really matter. The woman I mentioned earlier can continue to think I’m wrong. It’s fine. In the end, for her sake, I hope she sees a bigger picture. But I can’t control that. So I wish her well, refuse to buy into her conflict and move on with a clear mind.
Being right is fine. Its part of standing up for your convictions. But being right at the right time and for the right reasons and doing it in the right way, now that’s mastery.
Agreed? If not, its okay. We can agree to disagree!