You’re talking to someone about a ‘charged’ subject, something that gets the emotions going, something that is important to you. You express your point of view, and they disagree, seem to ignore your points and continue to express their own points. Trying your best to get through, you attempt to address each of the points they make and offer your counter argument. Again, they seem to ignore all of your counter arguments and express that you are wrong and give other ideas they believe about the subject. You go back and forth in this same manner a couple of times, and you start to get frustrated. You feel like you are talking to a brick wall. Are you frustrated because they disagree? Or are you frustrated because they aren’t understanding or trying to understand your points?
When one plus one doesn’t equal two
I’m sure many people just want to be right. If we make a choice, if we have an opinion, of course we made that choice and hold that opinion because we think (or ‘know’) it’s right. If we acknowledge other people’s opinion doesn’t that mean we are wrong or could be wrong? How are we supposed to acknowledge or understand someone who doesn’t agree that 1 + 1 = 2?
In the ideal world, we would acknowledge there are always assumptions we have relating to our opinion. Even something as simple as “1” + “1” = 2. This has many assumptions. We are assuming that “1” is the number one, 2 is the number two, that we are counting with roman numerals, that the + sign means to add, etc. This sounds redundant, but it’s massively crucial: 1 + 1 literally doesn’t always equal 2.
Given a different context, different assumptions, we come to different conclusions. The fact is, everything down to the way we add is subject to assumptions, so ideally we *always* acknowledge other opinions because of the infinite number of assumptions. These assumptions will always cause variations in opinions.
Seek to understand
When we accept that we aren’t “right” about all of our opinions, we instead can seek to understand other possibilities when we communicate with others. Based on our understanding and experiences, we can trust we’ve made the best choice for ourselves, but know there are always other possibilities that other’s may lean towards.
By working to understand other’s opinions, they see a genuine attempt to get to know their side. They will often be more willing to get to know our opinions as a result. It not only helps to strengthen our own knowledge, but helps them understand a different possible outcome:
1 + 1 = 2
1 + 1 = 10
“1” + “1” = “11”
Whoever we are talking to may stick to 1 + 1 = 10 as a key assumption. Every opinion is then formed around that assumption, and as such they will have different conclusions about many things. If they understand our assumptions, we understand theirs, we can now speak the same language, make decisions better, have useful and possibly fun discussions.
Facts are facts
The problem is of course, when we believe or know something is fact and not just an opinion. This closes the door to any alternatives, it establishes that we are making no assumptions.
In math and science, facts are supposed to be the most basic things that can be observed to be true. They should be simple, repeatable, verifiable by everyone. These act as the basis of scientific theory and laws. The beauty of math and science is that they accept that theory and laws all can change, as can the actual facts and their proven observation.
In general the litmus test for ‘what is a fact’ is whether it is verifiable by everyone. We have to be aware that the vast majority of our beliefs are not facts, they are opinions. For example ‘historical facts’ are not scientific facts. They can’t be repeated, or measured to verify. We only have books and records that one has to ‘believe’ is true.
Statistical evidence, also is often used to make ‘factual’ claims which are actually subject to many assumptions. We may think, statistics equals “repeatable, measurable by everyone” and therefore “fact”. But unfortunately, it depends on what we are measuring and what we are concluding. Statistical evidence may have strong implications, they may be used as the basis for decisions, but they are not typically facts and always come with certain assumptions.
We must be diligent and true to ourselves, acknowledging when despite our strongest beliefs, if it is not repeatable, measurable, verifiable by everyone it’s not a fact.
When we hit a brick wall
Now, despite all of our efforts we will encounter brick walls that believe that all of their assumptions are facts, that their opinions are facts, they will not acknowledge any of our points or counter arguments even if we acknowledge and understand theirs.
These brick walls could be our own parents or family members, our spouse or significant other, our friends. In most cases, there’s no reason to push the envelope. It may suck or hurt that they don’t understand or acknowledge anything we are saying. Yet, it is almost never a good idea to force the issue, if we hit the brick wall and break it down, we hurt the other person and if it’s someone we care about we hurt ourselves as well.
As much as I wish there was a trick to help everyone become more understanding of differing opinions, all we can do is be as reasonable as possible when we hit a brick wall, be open to their opinions, acknowledge the differences and spread the message by being an example. Give them something to soften their wall, then go around the wall and leave them be. Hopefully we can slowly improve one person at a time.