Editor's Note

This is the third of ten posts about discussing strong disagreements. See the series summary, with links to published posts here.

 

Don’t you know loving couples, married for decades and decades, who still can’t store their toothbrushes in the same way? Happy people who still can’t drive without giving their spouse the jitters? Couples whose use of remote controls remains radically inconsistent? Isn’t there something about that close friend you’ve known forever that, well, works just fine, but, admit it, is still really weird?

I’d be surprised if you don’t. When you get down to the nitty gritty of living together harmoniously, funny little things inevitably pop up. Sometimes it takes decades for simple behaviors to change. Sometimes they never change.

It’s not a big deal. Habits don’t like getting uprooted, and we know that. We can live with our friends’ annoying habits, even when they take a long time to change, because we know that behavioral switches sometimes take time.

Yet, for some reason, when we come to differences of belief - strong disagreements - we want to insist on agreement happening as quickly as possible. We “confront” people, sit them down, and expect agreement within an hour or so. We want others’ convictions to be easier to change than remote control use is.

Sometimes ideas and behaviors do change quickly. Sometimes agreement does come after one sit-down talk. Often it doesn’t. If it can take decades to learn to dry dishes thoroughly, how can we expect to agree about whether it’s better to prioritize safety or trust, for example, within an hour? Yes, it could take an hour. But it might take years. You can’t know how long it will take. In discussion, there’s too much outside of your control, just as it should be. The best things, both in thought and behavior, are worth working for.

If you want more than a pretend peace, you must be ready to spend as much time as it takes to truly agree. You must be ready, both of you, to stick together until the end, however long it will take. You must be ready to start on an unknown road, with unknown dangers, with an unknown length, toward a beautiful country. You’re seeking the truth together.

Remember: Beliefs are far-reaching things. Each belief has many sources and uses, and relates to a huge network of other ideas and feelings. When you start discussing your disagreement, you may find the need to explore any number of things to which it relates. In order to come to agreement about what appropriate privacy in a household is, for example, you may need to discuss what trust means, what respect means, what adulthood means, and what love means too. You’ll have to seek each of those truths together.

Don’t forget: the goal of well-earned unity with the people you love is worth your patience. Get ready to stick to it, and, if you find agreement quickly, give thanks.

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