When people express opinions that are antithetical to mine, I have a tendency to become unusually angry to the point where I cannot stand to listen to them anymore. Many people don’t have warm feelings when someone contradicts them, but their blood does not immediately boil to where they can’t bite their tongues for a moment. It’s not necessary to give voice to our every thought. Responding to someone’s differing opinion in a snarky, condescending, or antagonizing manner, which I’ve done on several occasions, does nothing to produce healthy dialogue. This is most common in discussions about politics and religion, but can encompass many other areas as well. Often I will hear someone express an opinion as though it were an indisputable fact. If their argument is deeply flawed and uses false evidence to support their claims, holding my tongue is like shaking a can of soda. If I give in to the knee-jerk reaction, it is like opening that can.
It is never a good thing to respond to this kind of situation without consulting your logical side first. It takes a lot of practice to develop superior impulse control. Some people find it easier than others. It depends on things like how the person was raised, genetics, life experiences, and the state of their mental health. It happens to be difficult for me. Sometimes I have to stop listening to their views and separate myself from the interaction altogether in order to avoid becoming hostile and saying things I will undoubtedly regret.
If I manage to maintain my cool, I can respond logically and carefully, so as not to be hostile and unreasonable; even if the other person doesn’t necessarily interpret it that way. I am much happier when I succeed in acting that way. There are also times when the right thing to do is not respond at all. For instance, if I am a member of an audience listening to a speaker, it is wrong for me to yell out and heckle the speaker just because I don’t like what they have to say. It doesn’t mean I am required to approve of that speaker’s comments, but I should be responsible enough to show respect.
Many times I believe I am presenting the objective truth while the other person is just presenting an opinion. Whether or not that is in fact the case, having that mindset can make me prideful. In my mind I am thinking about how stupid they are to believe what they do. I wonder how it is possible for someone with a fully functional brain to reach the conclusions they have when absolutely everything objective points to the exact opposite. When I achieve that mindset, I will soon reach a point where continuing the discussion will only end in yelling and bitterness. I become more angry with people who are willfully blind than with those who simply don’t have enough information or have been shown incorrect information. I need to realize that even if my statement is true, others might not be ready to accept it. It might be counterproductive to lay it out bluntly because others may interpret it as a personal attack and will dig in their heels even more as a result.
I freely admit I am not completely immune to being on the other side as well. Once in a while I will make some sort of judgment which another person could easily debunk because of my lack of accurate information. I’ve experienced times when someone could say, “Take a look in the mirror, buddy,” as have you. One example is the simple fact that I sometimes look down on those who cannot handle listening to differing opinions, when I occasionally have to stop listening to people voicing differing opinions in order to keep from getting upset. I’m aware of how hypocritical that is. Most people have at least a little bit of hypocrisy about something. It’s less a question of if someone has it, but how much one has. It also matters what effort we put in to change and develop sincerity and humility.
Even listening to other people debate each other on television is sometimes not possible for me. I can foresee what will need to be discussed and don’t want to see or hear their animosity and attacks while discussing a topic very personal to me. It can cause me to recoil and feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach. No one likes that feeling. The people defending my side might not present their argument well or might be talked over and cut off from making it at all. It would pain me to see the other side make a fool of them; not to mention that the audience’s opinion could be tainted and they won’t have enough accurate information to make an informed decision on the topic under discussion. I have a tendency to underestimate the intelligence of the audience of a debate. I sometimes compare them to a horse being led around by its bridle or a reed blowing in the wind, which is also a mindset I am trying to change.
Something that really helps me avoid getting angry over widely differing views is to bring to mind extenuating circumstances. Perhaps the other people were raised in environments that warped their views on a certain subject. Maybe they, like me, have a mental health problem of some kind that affects their thinking. Perhaps they don’t have all the information or were only given the wrong information. There is also the possibility they know something I do not. When I’m able to stop and consider these things before reacting, my calm is maintained and I grow.