We all know them. We all must deal with them. And most importantly, we must be on our guard to keep from becoming one of them. Who are they?
Two of the most important lessons I learned several years into my marriage were 1) Not everyone is like me; and 2) Nowhere is it written that everyone is even supposed to be like me. Trust me, if you can learn to accept these two propositions in your relationships you will have a much easier time in life.
But back to our main point – who are “they”?
The first time I encountered one of them (and recognized it) was in my work as a litigation attorney. Litigation is all about the resolution of disputes through the legal process. Were you hurt? How badly? Did someone back out of a deal? Or not do what he or she was supposed to do? This is where I live in my day to day life.
These matters are always adversarial and we lawyers are there to present our clients’ views and convince a judge or jury that “my way” is a better way of looking at this dispute than “his way.”
Most of the time the others in my legal community are reasonable people. We know that our clients can be any number of things – angry, vengeful, dishonest, or maybe just plain unreasonable or wrong. And when they are we try our best to minimize the damage and get to the best outcome we can. But most of the time we have two decent people who have a dispute that they have not been able to reconcile.
In other words, a good lawyer knows that there is almost always another side, and that reasonable people can disagree. We can disagree about the meaning of a statute, we can disagree about whether a legal doctrine applies to our facts, and we can disagree about what may have actually happened.
But rarely I get one of “them” on the other side. He (I will go with “he” though this is not always the case) has an unswerving belief in his side. His client is right, remembers everything correctly and has no bias or impure motive. His view of the law is inarguably correct and his evaluation of how the case should go is the only one that can possibly exist. And if you disagree, there are only two possibilities: You have ulterior motives or you just don’t understand. In other words, you are either dishonest, or you are just stupid.
In the decades since I first identified this phenomenon at the office, I have noticed it out in the world. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting more common.
For one example, I recently experienced an issue with a software vendor. The succinct version is that I was sold an upgrade that did not include all of the features I had previously paid for.
Should I have directly asked if every piece of this software was included in my new license? Probably. Should the representative of the company have known what I already had and made clear that the price he was quoting did not include all of it? Oh my, yes.
Did we have a situation where there was a misunderstanding that both sides needed to work out with some kind of compromise? Not according to that salesman. “Did our contract say you had that license? No? Then why would you think you had it?” I was left with a choice to pay extra money or (due to technical issues in the upgrade) be left with unusable software. And if I did not see that, then I was either being dishonest or was just stupid.
This situation has been cropping up more and more in politics and government. In a prior era, politicians always talked tough in public. In the end, however, they were all part of the club and could almost always come to some resolution that most of them could live with.
Today we have more and more in government (in both parties and in both ends of the political spectrum) who see no reason to compromise. Because they are right that there is no other legitimate view. And if the other side does not see that, it must be because they are either dishonest or stupid.
Social media is no better. Now I am not afraid to have political opinions, and some of them can be reasonably strong. But I must always ask myself if the other side of the argument has a point. We may not agree, but I have to understand and acknowledge that their grievances may very well be legitimate, even if we disagree on how to best address them.
Sadly there are those who do not approach things in this way. I understand, of course, that 1) these people are not like me and that 2) nowhere is it written that they have to be. I question, however, if some of these folks have ever considered these propositions. Because when I disagree I am simply wrong. My position has no legitimacy and could clearly be held only by someone trying to take unfair advantage of others or by someone who is just plain stupid.
Do you question whether racial quotas favored by the left are the best way to resolve lingering inequality issues? Then you are either a racist or you just don’t understand the problem. Do you question the effectiveness of tax rate cuts supported by the right? Then you are either trying to subvert our economic system or you just don’t understand how the economy works. Now it is always possible that someone really does have those motives – there are racists and there are people who would really like to subvert our economic system. And there are people who do not understand the issue but spout off anyway. Let’s go with uninformed instead of stupid, but you get the idea.
There are, however, thoughtful, intelligent people who just see things differently from the way I see them. We can disagree about whether they give too much weight to some things over others and we can disagree on whether their ideas will work. But a difference of opinion does not mean that they are dishonest and does not mean that they are stupid. They are just decent, honorable people who disagree with me.
Another lesson I learned long ago is that the only person I can really control is myself. So I suppose the best we can do is be able to recognize this mindset when we see it in others and to work at not falling into it ourselves. Which – unless we actually are dishonest or stupid – is something fairly easy to do.