It is easy to be a nice person when things are rosy, going well, in agreement with your expectations, society’s norms, etc. There is nothing else to do except enjoy such moments where everything seems to be in sync.
When things are not going our way or when people disagree with us, we respond in various ways. Some of us withdraw into our shell and stop communicating. Silent treatment. Some of us get aggressive and become argumentative. Some of us try try to persuade and convince by all means, by cajoling, threatening or perhaps bribing. Some of us turn to humour. Some of us pretend whatever that led to the moment of disagreement did not happen. Some of us sweep things under the carpet. Some of us create distractions so that we don’t have to deal with the issue at hand. Some of us don’t hear the disagreement and continue to say what we wanted to say. Some of us dissolve the issue by saying, “I agree to disagree” or “you have the right to your opinions.” I am sure this is not an exhuastive list.
In history, the greats are often seen to be so primarily because we have great respect for the way they dealt with the circumstances they were in. Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King to name a few – people remember the way they behaved and carried themselves in times of seemingly insurmountable challenges; in the face of extensive disagreement or no agreement at all.
The question is: did the events cause their greatness, or did they create their own unique place in history?
Some say a person’s character is defined by these moments of great difficulty, when everything including circumstances and everyone seems to be against you. Take a moment and recall a time you experienced like this. How did you respond? How did you behave?
I believe that greatness is a function of choice. Every time I come face to face with no ageement, I have a choice to make in that moment. My options maybe one or many. The historical greats could have chosen to walk away from it all, and we would have no stories to tell now. They made a choice to serve, to pursue a stand for what they believed in and they are remembered for the way they rose against all odds.
In a specific episode last year, I found myself in a situation where I had unintentionally upset a group of people. There were about 12 of us – three got really aggressive, most were stung by the sudden rise in tension, and a few were not sure what happened.
Instead of walking away or challenging the three to a verbal duel, in a split second, I chose to step down and listen. I asked them why they are upset and when it became clear that their aggressive behaviour is a response to something I said, I acknowledged my responsibility in upsetting them and apologised, even though it was not my intention to have caused such uproar. I got them to see where I was coming from and also got to stand in their shoes.
The conversation shifted from one that could potentially have resulted in me being assaulted both verbally and physically (no kidding), to one where the four of us had a breakthrough in the way we relate to each other in that episode. The rest of the group, having watched the way I dealt with the whole situation, also saw something that helped them to see the way they dealt with moments of disagreement.
In all, I got that by choosing to take a step back, by choosing to listen rather fight my way through, I created a new space for a different conversation to take place. A friend later pointed out to me that she heard courage in my choice. I never saw that in the moment to be honest though on further thought, I saw it.
It takes courage to stand for our beliefs and commitments in the face of disagreement. There are so many ways we can choose to be in times like these. It is ultimately a choice. Who do I choose to be in that moment?
How I am being in the face of no agreement is a choice, mine and mine alone. A reminder to self: make every choice count. Greatness is a choice.