She’s strikingly beautiful: tall, large oval-shaped eyes, full lips, dark flowing hair. Her exotic look could land her on the cover of any fashion magazine. Her personality perfectly suits her ample frame. She’s outgoing and bubbly, intense and opinionated and I’ve enjoyed the two years she’s spend in my anger management group. She is well-known for her strong opinions and feelings. Last week was no exception.
That evening she noticed voter application forms on the table in the front of the room and strongly urged the others to register to vote in the upcoming presidential election. “We can’t let that other guy get into office,” she exclaimed. “He’s a liar!”
There are two topics I never discuss in public: religion and politics. People are fiercely passionate about both and can easily cross the line from debate to defamation. It’s disheartening enough to see our political leaders vilify each other. I do not need to engage in similar communications. I don’t do ugly.
But this discussion was already in progress. I encouraged the women present to learn as much as they could about each candidate and vote wisely in Nov. “Don’t simply watch one channel or read one newspaper. Research every source of information. Weigh the reliability of each source. Then choose who you feel would best serve our country.” Pretty fair and objective advice, I thought.
The woman continued: “Don’t vote for Romney. He can’t be trusted! He’s against women and will take away our rights!” I inquired as to specifically what she was referring to and where she got her information from. She refused to respond but simply repeated her accusations with more fervor, adding additional allegations. I disputed several of her claims and sited my trusted sources. Her voice rose as she refused to allow me to complete a sentence. As much as I requested she show me respect and refrain from interrupting, the situation only escalated. When I suggested that her information (matters of public record, not simply my opinion) was incorrect, she blew me off, at times laughing in my face. “That’s ridiculous!” she screamed. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
I reminded her, in vain, of my original point – to educate ourselves on the issues, research all sources, and vote intelligently. I purposefully did not endorse either candidate at this time, respecting each woman’s right to decide for herself. However, she continued her diatribe for the next hour.
There were significant mistakes each of us made that accounted for the debacle of our discussion. First, having initially stated my position it would have been wiser for me to let it go. Instead, I repeated myself several times to someone who clearly was not interested in what I had to say. Second, I failed to set and enforce boundaries. At the first sign of disrespect, I should have changed the course of the discussion. I failed to do so.
On her part, she entered this dialog with a closed mind. Unwilling to listen to an opposing position, she let her ego rule her behavior. Those who interrupt are fearful of being exposed to new ideas which may challenge their current beliefs. Her sarcastic laughter was incredibly disrespectful and meant to intimidate and humiliate me (it did neither). Next, she made statements she was unable to support with examples or documentation, a clear indication she had no real knowledge of the subject. This made her appear ignorant and desperate.
Clearly, we both made our share of mistakes. A spirited debate can be stimulating and educational. This failed on all accounts. My advice? Before opening your mouth, make sure your mind, ears, and heart are as well. Otherwise, it can get ugly.
Author, The Secret Side of Anger, The Great Truth