I recently asked a friend what my next post should be. His response: “How about successfully handling a difference of opinion and ideals?? That has been something big I’ve noticed a lot of”. I was somewhat taken back by this response – I wasn’t expecting it. The man suggesting this, to my knowledge, doesn’t pay much attention to the news or politics. He is a teacher who is very concerned with the wellbeing of his students. But regardless… Challenge accepted!
Don’t judge a book by its cover — growing up teachers would drill that into my head. I thought they were wrong then, and I think they are wrong now. The reason why I think so can help answer my friends question.
Judging something goes hand in had with understanding that thing. This is how science turns into engineering. But this is also how humans learn to interact with each other. In the middle ages it was called Physiognomy, the study of one’s character from their outward appearance. There have been a lot of various things associated with physiognomy, but I am most familiar with what the medieval monks had to say on it — and that’s not saying much. People’s dress and mannerisms say a lot about them, and judging those things can help you navigate your interactions with that person.
Now, that may seem very elementary but I left out a lot about the theology of natural law and how it relates to science, justifying our right to judge which done properly is the virtue of prudence — as Aristotle said, “right reason applied to practice”. I would add properly before practice, because that is where being judgmental most often gets a negative connotation — people see reason (right or wrong) applied improperly to practice. When I was a child, I didn’t know how to articulate that to my teachers.
When my friend suggested this prompt my mind instantly went to politics, then religion. I thought about illustrating the correlation of the masculine and feminine on the political scale and the relation of its natural laws mirroring the churches hierarchy. But I assumed my friend was talking about something more personal, something close to home. Relationships. A key thing when properly applying reason is to exercise empathy — because, without it, like trust, relationships are hard to maintain.
The amount of empathy can be a tricky thing to get right. Too much and you become a hysterical lunatic. Too little and you lack charity. One way to gauge the amount is to track the reaction of others — but, to be accurate, you need to factor in, through judgment, the emotional maturity of those people, how their flaws are guiding their reactions, and how your flaws are effecting your judgment of those reactions. I have found when you practice forming a good conscience this can become intuitive. Structuring your day can have a great impact on that.
Having compassion, what I would consider the umbrella for empathy and sympathy, can be a real challenge for those who put a great deal of effort into trying to form themselves into honorable people — at least it is for me. This is because, when you work really hard at something and someone wants some of those fruits from your labor it can seem counterintuitive to oblige them. The reason it’s not has to do with the importance and formation of community, which I won’t get into here.
It’s easy for honor-driven people to be viewed as Scrooge characters in todays world — and it is this I think my dear friend is trying to avoid. Unfortunately, when you stick to your principles and values this label may be inevitable, but it shouldn’t be sought out (something I find difficult, because I need to further develop fortitude). However, with that being said, when in doubt take action. If you’re striving for virtue, as my friend is, the inaction can hollow out the foundation of what you are trying to build. Do not inflate the action as being something big, rather it can be something as small as asking a question (which more often than not is more effective than something grand).
At the end of the day you just have to accept the fact that not everyone will think the same way as you or believe what you believe, and there is nothing you can do to change that. You can demonstrate through your actions how your beliefs are more fruitful and hope they realize it, but there are no guarantees.
That is about the best answer to the question I can come up with at this point in my life. “How about successfully handling a difference of opinion and ideals??”. I come across this very same thing quite often and implementing these strategies have gotten me the best results in terms of ending the conversation where the people involved still view each other respectfully with dignity. To my dear friend who reads this, I hope it helps.