Who is right? Are “they” wrong?

by robin | Mar 13th, 2018 | Leave a comment

Whether at the national level or local, whether in a public forum or around a kitchen table, the art of dialog – of discussion and listening to and exploring differing viewpoints –  has all but disappeared.  Instead, more often than not  we have one person, or one side who is “right”, and the others are “wrong.”

We all are guilty of that at one time or another. “Once they see this,” we say.  “Once we get them to understand that,” we are certain, “then they will see that we are right.”   And that they are wrong.  Or, at least, they have no reason to not agree with us.

To many, we are wrong.  “How can you even think that?” they say of us.  And then, in this new world, they commence to dismiss whatever it is we are thinking.

And we do the same to them.

In some life work I did some years ago, one of the first things we learned was how we, as human beings, often make others wrong so that we are right – in ideas, in relationships, in lots of aspects of our lives.

And yet, really, who are we to say what’s right and what is not?  Sure, there are some things that are clearly not wrong, that we can all agree on.  Like clean air and clean water.  And that we shouldn’t kill other people (and even that is up for debate again).

But beyond that, what is “right” to me, and what is “right” to you really depends on where we are coming from – the myriad experiences and learnings and encounters that make up who we are and our points of view.  Having a different way of interpreting something, or thinking about something, does not necessarily make me wrong.  It just makes me different from you.

David Herriges, at the end of his “Calming the Waters,” which just appeared in Strongtowns.org, said this (about differences of opinion in a paricular issue of community planning):

Far too many of us listen to people looking for where they’re wrong … At our worst, we’re hoping to score points rather than engage with what we might learn from what they’re saying.
Instead, when you listen to someone you disagree with (especially someone you disagree with), listen for where they’re right. Everyone is right about something. Everyone believes what they believe because of something in their own experience, some basic truth that motivates his or her world view. Find that person’s ground truth. 
You can learn something from everyone who cares about your [community].
Town meetings are coming up (the purest form of democracy, some say).  What if you, if you attend town meeting, went in being mindful of this notion that everyone has a basic truth? You may not agree with some of what you hear, but if you could identify and acknowledge that truth of those naysayers (or the ones YOU are saying “nay” to) – what could YOU make happen?
( This was first published on March 2 by Plan NH.)

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