Civilly: With Respect and Affection
A highly regarded person significant to me has acquired a perspective quite different from mine in recent years. Throughout my lifetime this older person and I generally agreed on many aspects of life though a decade exists between our ages. Often in such relationships there may be a period of time when the younger one looks up to the older one, regarding them as more experienced, knowledgeable and sophisticated in the world’s ways.
The years pass but the age difference always spans the same number of years. Both individuals experience and knowledge begins to evolve into a more equal state -- whether or not they each recognize this has occurred. The older one in some relationships may not always accept such equality as fact. A multitude of other personal variances in thought and activities will likely develop, but the emotional bond remains strong. During the ensuing years natural aging processes that began at birth continue to exert their influences. We are more aware of aging effects the older we become as has occurred in my relationship.
Life's later years may sometimes result in the older one beginning to experience sensory restrictions adversely affecting communication. Visual and hearing loss, for example, can create complicating sensory difficulties. Medical events occasionally result in some people also acquiring reasoning and/or judgment issues. The combination of any or all of these effects can present all sorts of limitations -- some in ways that seem to unfairly challenge that person's logical thinking -- even altering their perception of the world around them.
For example, some individuals may have difficulty formulating quick concise responses to launch a timely verbal offense when disagreeing on issues. The decreased speaking rate is obvious when we recall the precise articulating of an idea and rapidity with which the person was once able to react. Slowed response, or delayed speech alone, does not necessarily mean a person is incapable of thinking clearly, only that the process may simply take longer.
Individuals experiencing this slowed reaction may become easily frustrated and angry partly because of this unwelcome change in ability. Additionally, the act of thinking and communicating may be very tiring for them. If various sensory communication difficulties are present also, sometimes individuals may blame the person with whom they’re talking as being the cause of any misunderstandings that may occur. Generally, the desire to be engaged, to have our ideas and our opinions receive serious consideration -- simply to be heard -- is what they and we all value.
The person in my life has derived great delight through the years being a devil’s advocate on many issues. Such opposition has been assumed partially because that person wants to stimulate thinking and reasoning, but also has been prompted by actual disagreement on some matters. Any sensory and/or mental functional complications become obstacles to such dynamic debate when these changes occur, whatever the cause.
Given my personal feelings, I think my dear older one having to make such adaptations seems quite unjust. Yet I know that these can be changes with which we all may need to cope at any age or stage of life. They may be especially challenging as we become older.
I know my communication challenge is to make necessary allowances for my dear ones limitations. I realize, too, some people have to make far more complex adjustments. Still, I must admit that my patience is sometimes stretched to its very limits during our conversations. When we strongly disagree, I think my edging toward impatience is partly because I must restrain from using a full arsenal of rebuttal information -- facts with which I once could have countered inaccurate statements I’m expected to accept as truth. But when the implication is repeatedly made that my opposing view can only be because I’m “simply ill informed,” my hackles do rise.
That's when I've been surprised to feel sudden unbidden competitive impulses emerging. I want to exploit my opponent’s obvious functional communication weaknesses to diminish that attitudinal superior point of view. I strain to avoid seizing the discussion point from which to launch a grand verbal coup d’etat – a triumph I could easily accomplish, partly because of my opposition’s weakened physical, sensory and mental processing state. My fervor wanes when I consider the unintended ricochet damage to my opponent’s already diminished ego from health and aging assaults. So, I resist – where would be the victory in such circumstances?
This political season has presented especially difficult challenges as we have come to occupy profoundly opposite positions on how best to chart this nation’s future. I usually manage to avoid much political discussion because so much of what my dear one presents to me seems to have derived from very limited sources of questionable credibility -- quite unlike our issue discussions many years ago. My necessarily limited refuting facts are countered primarily by the accusatory assertion that I've been "brain-washed." There is no possibility of altering either of our points of view in this circumstance.
I remind myself that sometimes we just need to allow an individual to fully express themselves. We must simply be a listener, affirming what is said as being heard without having to agree or disagree. I readily do this in my work. as appropriate, and with select others. Applying this approach when there has been a close personal relationship, especially with a spouse or family member, can introduce quite different human dynamics as I’ve observed.
So it is that the printed greeting on my dear ones personal message account has begun with one sentence, then other statements have been subsequently added (all specifically meant for me, I think):
Those who do not learn from past mistakes are doomed to repeat them. None are so blind as those who will not see. Those who bury their head in the sand expose their rear end to predators.
I totally agree with all these quotes, but my rebuttal paraphrase is this:
None are so blind as those whose head is buried in the sand, exposing their rear ends to predators, while deluding themselves by loudly pronouncing that others cannot see. They have not learned from past mistakes, so are doomed to repeat them.
If circumstances were different, I’m sure we would have a rollicking good laugh in this word play game. I would be awaiting a likely-to-be fascinating response from that dear person who has always been able to raise my ire when others could not.
Years ago when we occasionally disagreed on a variety of what now would seem like mundane matters, my dear one uttered words I was hearing for the first time then. I try to remember to inject them into our infrequent but necessarily brief dialogue, since they apply now in capital letters:
"I GUESS WE AGREE TO DISAGREE."
I expect many of you are encountering political differences with family, friends and loved ones, especially this Presidential election year. The challenge is to civilly cope, maintain or even nurture respect, love and affection with those for whom we care. We do so despite the sometimes bitter discourse they may introduce from pundits and politicians who foster such to divide us, often deliberately. I hope navigating these treacherous political waters is proving to be relatively smooth-going for you and am interested in your experiences.
(Revised extensively from original publication titled "Political Differences" at Ronni Bennett's "The Elder Storytelling Place.")