High Angle view of two people sharing opinions over coffee.

It’s Not All About You—Allowing for Different Opinions

I’m always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don’t even take what I am seriously.

~David Bowie

Having a meaningful life involves caring deeply about our passions and perspectives. The causes we work toward and the effort we put in toward our goals can define who we are. These thoughts and actions are aligned with our values and consistent with our worldview, and it can become very hard to hear anything that goes against them.

When our causes or our work become part of our identity or the basis for how we interact with people, it can be all too easy to take ourselves too seriously and not be open-minded to others’ perspectives and opinions. We want everyone to agree with us and be supportive of what we are trying to achieve, but of course it doesn’t always work that way.

When we go through life with the expectation that everyone we come across should be as passionate as we are, care about the same things we care about, and be interested in everything we have to say, not only will we be disappointed, but we will also come across as arrogant or a know-it-all.

People are different

There’s nothing wrong with caring what others think about what we think and do—it’s part of the human condition—but we need to realize it’s something we can’t control. The truth is that people are different, and not everyone will care about the same things we care about, even when it seems SO obvious that they should.

When I was younger, I would take it personally when others didn’t share my passions. I thought if I could just explain why I was passionate about my causes that others would join me in them and be as passionate as me. If they didn’t, then obviously I wasn’t clear or the other person was being obstinate. I didn’t allow for the fact that other people have different opinions, even when they know all the facts.

This has become a major problem in public discourse. People have become so polarized that different opinions are seen as good vs. evil. People’s motivations are called into question, and it gets very personal very quickly. One of the biggest causes of this phenomenon is that people’s interactions are occurring on social media instead of face to face. On social media, people don’t exercise the common courtesy that they do when interacting face to face (see Civility). They also don’t really take the time to explore and understand opposing viewpoints. They feed off like-minded people and create an increasingly bigger divide.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

People tend to be drawn to others who don’t take themselves too seriously. Why? Because they allow other people to have their own passions. It’s not all about them – it’s about everyone.

That doesn’t mean they don’t care: It means they know there’s lots of stuff in this world to care about, not just their stuff. When we take ourselves too seriously, we start to treat our opinions as facts. We start to become intolerant of anyone who disagrees with us. We become insufferable.

Being open to different opinions also demonstrates that we are confident in our own. We don’t need everyone to agree with our opinion to make it valid; in our minds, it is valid.

Be intentional about being open-minded

Being open-minded can be difficult. For many of us, it doesn’t happen naturally. We often don’t take the time to consider opinions that differ from our own—it’s too easy to jump right in to defending our positions. But if we can get into the habit of pausing and honestly and thoroughly reflecting on others’ opinions—where they come from, the other person’s context and background, the big picture—it will add a certain depth and meaning to the conversation that wasn’t there before. And even if you end up continuing to disagree with the other person, you will likely have established a foundation of trust and an enhanced ability to engage constructively.

Being open-minded involves allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It involves opening yourself up and allowing others to put something there that may not have otherwise been there. If you are listening to an opposing viewpoint and, while listening, thinking about your rebuttal or how the other person is wrong or misinformed, then you’re not being open-minded (see Knowing).

Open-mindedness takes courage, patience, and putting our egos aside. It’s hard, but it’s necessary for society to improve public discourse and for individuals to develop meaningful relationships.

Not taking yourself too seriously and keeping an open mind, and being passionate and committed, are not mutually exclusive.

Take the time to listen to and understand those around you… and for Pete’s sake, lighten up!

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