Everyone’s faced them: conversations that become heated when people hold strongly different views on a topic. It’s a main reason why some people say religion and politics are taboo in polite society. But there’s nothing wrong with having different opinions. In fact, it’s an important part of life. So there shouldn’t be anything wrong with sharing different opinions either.
It’s how we go about these conversations that matters.
When we get into heated conversations about our core beliefs, we usually take the defensive—not wanting to be accused of having an opinion that’s not politically correct, or perhaps wanting to make our case so we can “win” a debate. Both situations show the danger in these types of conversations: nobody should be diminished for their core beliefs, and conversations about those beliefs shouldn’t be debates at all.
Instead, we can view our conversations as ways to seek and understand others’ beliefs—and to help others understand ours. And that approach makes all the difference.
After all, mutual respect is about letting people have their own opinions and act as they want (as long as it doesn’t harm the health or safety of others). It’s about applying the Golden Rule. It’s about learning why others believe the way they do—not so we can prove them wrong but so that we can better understand them. That approach can actually make conversations more interesting, making each one a chance to learn more about different people, religions, cultures, and thoughts. And that approach leads to real mutual respect—where people of one faith, differing faiths, or no faith at all can find common ground that unites them. Because everyone has something in common—and probably a lot in common when we get to the heart of why we believe the way we do.
When we understand one another better, we’ve created a space where we can find solutions that build on our common ground, benefit everyone, and help us live and work together in peace.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught how to interact with those of differing views.