How to talk to people you disagree with

It feels like we live in a world that is more divided than ever. Brexit, the legacy of the Trump administration and denial of the pandemic that is leading to thousands and thousands of deaths and much more is building a lot of tension. Feminists have always been controversial people, despite the reasonable demand for equality. So wherever you fall on the political or personal beliefs spectrum, you are going to encounter people who have different opinions to you.

I’m sure some of you had tense video calls the last holiday season. That’s not just because of the difficulty some people have when it comes to technology. The divide in opinions isn’t just global, national or between socio-economic status. There are varying opinions between families. This can make interactions difficult. Surviving a pandemic is already upping the anty. So here is my advice for talking to people you disagree with.

Pick your battles

First, you can’t fight every battle. Just because someone says something you don’t agree with doesn’t mean you need to share your own opinion. I’m not saying you should be silent. I’m all for standing up for what is right but you need to protect yourself too. The amount of time you will hear someone say something hurtful will leave you exhausted if you challenge it every time. You need to pick the right moments to be the most effective at changing people’s minds.

Is it a discussion or a fight?

Before you respond, take a moment and consider what the intentions of the other person are. Sometimes people have hurtful opinions because they don’t know any better. With more information, they can understand the world and their place in it better.

However, some people have certain opinions because they think they are better than other people, they want to be controversial or they just want to get a reaction. If you try to discuss important and sensitive issues with someone who just wants to fight and be right, you won’t get anywhere. Some people aren’t open to other perspectives. They will stick to their opinions no matter what which is extremely closed-minded.

The best discussions about important issues are had between people who know why they believe what they believe but are open-minded to other opinions. You don’t have to agree with other people’s opinions but dismissing them outright will give you a very insular view of the world.

I often find that you can spot people who just want to argue and say something controversial from a mile off.  I’ve been approached by multiple divorced men in their forties chatting to women half their age at the pub who just want a reaction from them and saying something backwards is the only way they know how to do that. But that’s just me. If you are wondering, I prefer to socialise with people with more wide and empathetic views of the world.

Protect yourself

Lots of interactions with dismissive and self-centred people can get you down. It feels like empathy is a neverending battle. At times it can be upsetting. As Carol Hanisch said back in the 70s: the personal is political. Many of us turn to movements like feminism because we have experienced injustice and want to stop other people from going through the same trauma. Opposing opinions can feel like a personal attack. Others invalidating your experience is painful.

So how am I a public feminist with a personal connection to the movement? Most of the time people are surprised I have experienced such extreme sexism. They talk to me like I know nothing so are willing to say anything at all. I have to step back and realise they some people don’t connect people to the issues they are discussing. They just see it as a personal inconvenience. They are privileged enough to not understand what is it like to live through what I have. It is easy for them to dismiss it, no matter how many facts and statistics you share. That’s frustrating but there is oppression that I am privileged enough not to have experience either.

You also need to consider that people tend to do what they think is right in their eyes. Their life experiences have brought them to a certain opinion that makes complete sense to them. Often hatred comes from fear and pain. As much as I am hurt by some opinions, very few people are pure evil. That gives me hope that they are able to change.

Walking away isn’t losing

The last thing I need to remind you is that you need to know when to walk away. You cannot argue with every middle-aged man who’s had his ego knocked. That is too much for you to carry. You are not responsible for everyone else.

All you can do is have discussions with people who are open-minded, respectful and bases their opinions on facts. Otherwise, plant seeds of empathy and understanding. Some people aren’t used to being challenged and it will do them good to question their beliefs to make sure they are still valid. Your mental health matters. You can sacrifice it all the time.

While I am proudly feminist, sometimes I am just a person because I don’t have to capacity to take on misogyny at that moment.

I often share these thoughts and experiences. To keep up with me on a more regular bias, you can follow me on Instagram.

Liked this and are looking for something else to read? Try: How Feminism Saved Me.

Leave a Reply