I know this sounds odd, but humor me for a moment – because not only am I not joking, I can assure you from experience that what I am about to discuss works. It seems counterintuitive and I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – but it does work.
When I was in my 30’s, for about 10 years, I was very, very fortunate to have a music teacher from Julliard who was a profoundly deep and spiritual man. He taught me many things that had a huge impact on my understanding of life and how I should live it. Usually these “lessons” were presented informally as part of our conversation. I’ll never forget one recurring theme whose essence was “You must love your enemy away…” (Something very weird just happened – as I was typing this on my iPhone, autocorrect presented his name as a word choice in a sentence that shouldn’t have been triggered by the underlying algorithm!?)
Today I came across an editorial written by David Brooks about interacting with fanatics whose beliefs are anathema to yours. I will quote from his article: “You don’t have to like someone to love him. All you have to do is try to imitate Martin Luther King, who thrust his love into his enemies’ hearts in a way that was aggressive, remorseless and destabilizing (David Brooks).”
It is very difficult if not impossible for someone to remain angry with you if you are focused on loving them. Humans are primally wired to respond to love with positive feelings – if they are behaving aggressively at the very least they will be somewhat confused. This is how you change someone – not with anger and hatred, but with love. However, for this to work, you can’t fake it – it must be genuine. Faced with love and human acceptance, anger fades into empathy and the beginning of understanding. If you can do this you will find it has an added benefit: instead of carrying anger and negative feelings with you after your encounter, you will instead feel empowered and at peace.
It’s not impossible, anyone can do it. You are not condoning their beliefs and behaviors, you are just accepting them as the flawed human beings we all are and listening to what they have to say.
If you felt ignored and powerless and someone listened to you and they acknowledged your humanity and tried to understand your viewpoint (however misguided it might be) think of how that might make you feel.
Perhaps you wouldn’t feel quite so angry – you might actually begin to listen and have a dialogue with someone who doesn’t share your views.
And that my friend, is how things change…