Don’t Assume The Other Side is The Enemy

Warwick Fairfax

January 25, 2021

We live in a very divided world.  In fact some would say that our times are as divided as they have been in years, even decades.  Here in the U.S. we have recently had a divisive election that led those unhappy with the result to storm the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Not only are we divided by politics, we are divided about many if not most of the policy issues and even some health care choices. With COVID 19, some feel that we should wear masks at all times, minimizing contact outside our household.  Others, including people who may be younger or believe they are in good health, may not feel they need to be as careful.  Each side of the COVID 19 health debate, much like each side of the political divide, can tend to feel like the other side is misguided — even a bit, or a lot, crazy.

And it can get worse. We can tend to believe the other side is not only misguided and crazy, but evil.  You read about “the other side,” depending on your point of view, being “Nazis” or “Socialists” or “Fascists.”  Those are very strong words.  In reality, is there evil in the world?  Throughout history, there have certainly been people doing deeds which are wrong even evil.  Even in our day, it is possible to conclude that reprehensible actions by misguided even morally questionable people have occurred.

But while this may true, it is dangerous, to conclude that just because someone or some group of people may disagree with you that they are “evil.”  Not everyone who holds positions different to yours is evil. In fact, it’s likely true that most aren’t. The question is how does it serve you to assume that people who disagree with you or who have different beliefs than you, or look differently to you are evil?  Unity and tolerance for people who believe differently and look differently than you will lead to a morally better and more productive society.

Here are some thoughts for trying to build unity amidst diverse viewpoints and diverse people groups:

1. Don’t assume the “other side” or the “other people” are evil —even when you believe they are wrong.

There are times in history and even today where that may be true, but it will not always be true; and it will tend to be true less than we think it is true.

2. Try to understand the other side.

That means talking to them, reading about what that side thinks.  Not from commentators who you agree with, but from either neutral commentators or even commentators from their side.

3. Listen, really listen.

When you talk to people from the other side, really try to understand why they think the way they do.  Our life experience, our heritage, where we grew up and the people we grew up with significantly shape our perspectives on life.  Just to take one example, a rural perspective might stress self-reliance.  Yes, you have friends and neighbors and family who may help.  But ultimately, in this mindset, each person’s destiny is determined by themselves.  Contrast this with more of an urban perspective.  Here the challenges and belief systems can be quite different.  It is not uncommon in urban areas to have a greater reliance and belief in the role of government to protect the most vulnerable and ensure equity and fairness in society.

4. Don’t impugn other people’s motives – and always listen to make sure you attempt to understand those motives.

Try to give the other side the benefit of the doubt.  I am sure all of us would like others to treat us like that, innocent until proven guilty.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Not everyone you disagree with is evil.

5. Seek first to understand.

St. Francis of Assisi in his famous Prayer of St. Francis said that we should seek more to understand than be understood.  That seems like quite a radical statement.  We often focus our dialogue with others who are different than us by stressing that others need to understand us.  That is not wrong, but real dialogue often happens best when we lead with trying to understand the other side, before pivoting to helping others understand us.  What you start with matters.  Real leaders start with trying to understand the perspectives of those who are different from them first.

6. Unity creates opportunity.

By dialoguing with people who believe differently than you, and look differently than you there is real opportunity.  There is power where there is unity amidst diversity.

Unity amidst diversity can lead to tremendous growth.  Where you have an organization, a neighborhood or even a country comprised of diverse peoples with diverse perspectives, in harmony and unity, real growth and progress can happen.  Take one example.  Is it possible to preserve the environment for future generations while at the same time being aware of the impact of environmental regulations on employment, people’s jobs?  Perhaps there is a common sense middle ground where the environment is preserved while people’s jobs are preserved too.  Unity amidst diverse perspectives and diverse agendas is not easy, but the alternative is eternal combat where both sides tend to lose.

It is all too easy to demonize the “other side” as evil; to keep in our corners with our own people group.  Talk only to “our people,” live only near “our people” and consume news and information only from news outlets and commentators we agree with.  But when we do this, society becomes increasingly divided and growth and progress is stunted.  We may not be able to change the world, at least not today.  But how about in our workplace, in our community and neighborhood and even in our family? We need to try to listen to those who think differently and look differently than us.  We should practice the words of St. Francis, seek first to understand.

Reflection

  • What group do you self identify with such that you feel some significant level of disagreement with the “other side?”
  • What steps will you take this week to learn about how the “other side” thinks from their perspective?
  • How will you seek to bridge the gap and see what can be done to find a middle ground between your group’s perspective and the perspective of the “other side?”

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