How to Disagree and Coexist

Obama is a socialist. Racism doesn’t exist anymore. Jesus is God.

I’ve heard these phrases dropped at a family gathering, hanging out with friends. At the dinner table, everyone takes a sharp breath of air, suddenly so much more interested in the plate set before them. “Why don’t we change the subject?” A friend told me he hadn’t spoken to his father for several years, because his father disapproved of his career choice. Another friend limits her interactions with her mother after constant disapproval on how she was raising her children.

Most people don’t know how to disagree. Often times, you meet someone who doesn’t agree with you and it can get personal very quickly. Have you noticed that? He’s a Democrat, she’s a Republican and they’re at each other’s throats about their stances on immigration. He’s straight, he’s gay, and they refuse to be friends because of their differing views on marriage equality. She’s an atheist, she’s a Muslim, and they blame one another for the problems in the world. Why can’t we disagree with grace?

Why do most of us allow differing opinions to move us away from people instead of closer to them? If you travel to another country do you get mad at them for the disagreement of language? Do you get upset because they don’t view time the same way you do? Or that they may care about the community over the individual? A smart tourist knows how to disagree with class. They may not see the world in the same way but they know they are visiting and they don’t try to impose how they see the world on the people and places they visit. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I had a conversation with someone I had just met that quickly turned into a back and forth about police brutality in the U.S., (light intro conversation, I know). This is how it started, I was unpacking some of my views on terrorism as it related to a documentary I had recently seen and said, “We live in a country where police are terrorists, too.” Once this statement landed, she looked at me like I was a member of a terrorist group. I tried to cover all possible reasons why she might be offended, I told her I am not talking about all police, of course. I have people I know and love that are police officers for the right reasons and do a damn good job at protecting and serving. I offered her some insight into my personal experience in the area of Chicago that I grew up in, she didn’t budge. Not an inch. I felt like a leper, she made me feel like I wasn’t honoring my country and the people that serve it with my view. We’d known each other for about two hours and she ended up walking away from it not as a friend, but as a foe.

Why do we allow differences to do this to us? Why can’t we choose an elevated way of dealing with people that don’t see things the way we do? Why can’t we open our borders to people who aren’t just like us? Life can’t be experienced without disagreement. We look at the world differently, we’re shaped by the neighborhood we grew up in, the faith (or lack thereof) of our parents, the people that broke our hearts. It all plays a part in what we hold close to our chest.

I have great friends. The kind of friends that most people long for, they’re kind, generous, and wise. They are there for you when you need them and they find ways to help whenever they can. Because my friends are so awesome, they’ve joined me in my efforts to find love. A few nights ago, my friends tried to set me up with a very attractive female friend of theirs. I joined them for dinner and the table side banter commenced. We commented on the food, talked about career, and then it shifted. I was offered a glass of wine, I turned it down. One of my friends, said, “Johan doesn’t drink.”  The look on the face of this young lady was priceless. She scoffed at me for my choice and told me I should be an adult. The next day she told my friend it would never work between us, one of the reasons being, I don’t drink.

If life can’t be experienced without disagreement, how have you chosen to respond? Do you nod your head in agreement when someone says something you think is absurd? To me, being agreeable is cowardice, and just as insulting as going the other route: calling someone ignorant for an opposing view. Do you walk away? Start a fight? Make them feel stupid? Become passive aggressive? Condescend? Belittle? Patronize? What’s your weapon of choice? When someone doesn’t believe what I believe it’s an opportunity for me to ask questions, be challenged, serve and grow.

I believe in God and I have friends that think the notion of a Creator is downright foolish. One of my good friends is a college professor, an atheist and anarchist. That doesn’t deter me from calling him one of my best friends. I recall a conversation we had about our prison systems, his view is that the U.S. needs a complete overhaul in that arena. A view I partially agree with, where that led us to is the problem of evil. It was at that point that we disagreed with one another. He believes all forms of evil are a result of societal conditioning, I believe evil is the result of our separation from God. We tossed our views around for a while, went to go eat dinner and talked some more. Told some jokes in the midst of our exchange and walked away, not as enemies but as stronger friends who understood and respected each other more.

My friendships with people who don’t believe what I believe have broadened my perspective on life, helped me see the world differently and challenge the ways I live. What if, instead of choosing the routes that polarize us, we chose to see an opposing view as an invitation into a new world? If someone doesn’t see the world our way it’s an opportunity for us to join them in their journey. Disagreement is an invitation into seeing something we haven’t seen before, hearing something that we haven’t heard before and feeling something we haven’t felt before. It’s a ticket to explore new lands.

Is your passport ready?

By: Johan Khalillian // Image by: Alexandra Uzik

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