In my own family we have a spectrum of political opinions. When I’ve suggested we all leave politics at the door, one of our grown kids actually argues with that.
How can we turn off the contention and restore peace? Let me start with an idea I heard years ago: “The secret to peace isn’t war; it’s travel.” This is a wonderful reminder that when we get to know someone—really know them—we grow to love them. We’d never declare war on them.
So the first step is to really get to know the other person. Instead of sizing them up as unreasonable or close-minded, let’s be reasonable and open-minded. Let’s ask questions and actually listen.
Say someone has made a statement you disagree with—in fact, you know they’re dead wrong and you want to set them straight. But how often does that work? Have you ever been in a quarrel and watched the other person rub their chin and say, “By golly, you might be right!”? No. Because when we allow contention into the mix, everyone gets defensive and digs their heels in.
French writer Joseph Joubert said, “The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.” If we refuse to listen, we will make no progress. Picture people just shouting back and forth, interrupting, never asking a single question. They will not likely convert their “opponent.”
The Book of Mormon teaches this beautifully. In every conflict, notice that the only thing that ever converts the wicked isn’t war or force or punishment. It’s love. That’s how Ammon and his brethren had such great success with the Lamanites. They offered to become servants. They were meek and humble, not argumentative. They listened, and they taught without condescension.
This engenders respect. When someone knows you’re really trying to understand what they think, their tone changes. It softens. They aren’t hurling names at you; they’re trying to show you how they came to their conclusions. And, though they may never convince you to agree with them, they will at least acknowledge that you cared. And they’ll be much more likely to listen to your side of things as well. So ask questions without smirking or correcting them. Be on a fact-finding mission to discern how they feel and why.
Some of this means trying to see the little girl or the little boy inside the person you’re at odds with. Imagine their spirits agreeing to God’s plan and coming to earth. See them as children of a Heavenly Father with divine potential. This makes us far less likely to label, shun, or fight. Instead, we are looking for virtues and qualities to like.
Next, ratchet down the hysteria. You can feel passionate about something without insisting that the whole world agree with you. In fact, a cool, calm presentation will take you much further in convincing others, than will a brittle, angry demeanor. I like what our son, Brandon, said to describe the kind of flexibility we need in this life. He said, “If you’re in a restaurant and the people at the next table order a different meal than you did, you don’t get mad or ask to be moved. You realize people can eat what they want to.” I like this Menu Approach that allows others the agency to choose for themselves.
Children who are raised to think for themselves become better at making decisions, achieving goals, and becoming leaders. When we dictate a position without allowing anyone to question it, we sow seeds of resentment and even rebellion. Yes, we can teach our children what we believe, but none of us want kids who later complain that something was “shoved down their throat.” This implies a complete lack of respect for their own ability to think, and their agency to choose.
Third, be glad for diversity of thought. When we live in a house of mirrors we stunt ourselves. Don’t see varying opinions as a threat. See them as the spice that brings life to your relationships. You’re getting a glimpse of another world, or another culture, a whole different attitude. And this can help us grow, help us re-examine our own beliefs, help us defend ourselves and formulate logical ideas. American lawyer Frank A. Clark said, “We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who don’t.” Goodness knows we need to remember this in a marriage, and certainly we should remember it in other relationships as well. Sometimes our comfort zones are really just hiding places.
Fourth, remember that you don’t have to agree with someone in every regard, to be friends with them. Look for things you do admire and celebrate those. Be willing to defend someone, even if you disagree with their opinion. Love should supersede all mortal ideas and notions. Do you really think we’ll have politics like this in the next life? I’m in an Interfaith group where there are vastly divergent thoughts, and it’s enriching. I’m finding how easy it is to love people of all stripes because human beings are far more alike than we are different.
Fifth, involve Heavenly Father. I saved the best tip for last. Truly, when we pray to our Father in Heaven to help us have peace, a loving spirit can fill our home or workplace. We’ll be able to bridge the divide, to find common ground, and to express admiration. During our prayer we might even get insights that correct some of our stances, or help us to see another side of things. We can pray for temper control, common courtesy, and even diplomatic language. No one need go through life furious and angry. Prayer often helps us see the big picture, too. We can imagine eternity and how little today’s squabbles will matter in the next life.
The other day I was chatting with a friend who always makes me laugh. I just adore her. And I caught myself thinking, “I would love her no matter what her politics are.” We connect in so many other ways and she’s someone I’d want to sit by in a covered wagon, if life should ever come to that. What if I had never taken the time to truly get to know and love her? I’d have missed something really special.
And let’s hope someone feels the same way about you—they may not agree with all your beliefs, but they can’t deny how uplifting, and even fun, it is to be around you.
Hilton’s book, A Little Christmas Prayer, is the perfect Christmas gift. Sometimes it takes a child to raise a village, and this tale teaches anyone, of any faith, the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Church Communications.