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“He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.” — Edmund Burke
We can look at Burke’s statement through the lens of our own lives. I’ve met all kinds of people who either hide from those who disagree with them, or look for people to fight with. In many ways, both attitudes can be unhelpful because their underlying goals are not productive.
A person who hides from disagreement is never in a position to analyze his own beliefs and values. He’s created a cave in which to hide, afraid that someone in the world may make him feel uncomfortable or damage his belief system. Some people are just averse to conflict, period. They value peace and calmness above all else. The biggest problem for these folks is that they never check out their assumptions because they are either too insecure or too self-absorbed to engage with people who disagree with them.
Then there are those who always seem to be looking for a fight. They seem to value the battle more than the exchange of ideas; overpowering the other people, verbally beating them into submission is their primary goal. Although most of us like winning, being victorious for its own sake is an empty prize. In the process we have likely damaged our relationships, lost our credibility, and learned absolutely nothing.
The key, which is often true, is finding a balance of both: withdrawing from certain disagreements some of the time, and engaging with others with sincerity and respect. Easy, right?
No, in fact it’s very difficult. Our upbringing, life experiences and willingness or not to be engaged and transparent are challenges to leading productive lives. But if our goals are to master our reticence and our aggressiveness, we will live our lives in ways that provide learning, enjoyment and growth.
This is the way engagement is supposed to work on a personal level. But looking at politics for the last 50 years of this country’s history, how has this approach worked for us?Published in