Q&A: talking and thinking about conflict

So sorry yesterday's only post was about laser hair removal! I had every intention of posting another one, but then got completely engrossed in the inauguration here in the States to the extent that I forgot to edit and post my inauguration-related post. So, now I'm a day behind. Here's what was supposed to post yesterday:

Jennie writes:

"This isn't a burning question, but it's causing me some stress. My third-grader has been coming home from school kind of upset because he's been hearing kids talking about some of the stuff we talk about at home--politics, religion, etc.--and the kids are saying things that are the opposite of what we teach at home. How do I explain that people can have different opinions so that he understands that the other kids not agreeing with us doesn't mean we're wrong?"

This is a tough topic. And I disagree that it's not a burning question. Especially on the day we get a new President here in the US, this question and how we deal with it is going to have way more impact on our children and countries in the long run than anything having to do with sleep, eating, pooping, tantrums, etc. All that stuff is going to end (even if we do nothing about it), but how we get along as people with diverse positions on important issues is something that never ends and affects every aspect of our lives, in big ways and small ones.

It seems to me like this is kind of a matrix, and if we could agree on the dimensions we'd be in business. On one axis I see issues that have an absolute value vs. issues that are subjective. On the other axis I'd put things that we need to have dialogue about to come to better understanding vs. things we can just agree to disagree about. So you'd have four squares: absolutes that we need to talk about, absolutes that we agree to disagree about, subjective things that we need to talk about, and subjective things that we can just agree to disagree about.

The problem, of course, is that there's no way to come to any common understanding about what fits into any one category. I think most of us would say that "basic human rights" are in the absolute category. But what's one person's basic human right is another's privilege or even frill. And what's worth talking about and what's OK to just leave alone and disagree about?

It seems to me that each needs to be able to stay meta enough in the process to realize that what's important to you may not be important to someone else. And that sometimes people just don't have enough information to make an informed decision, and sometimes they have made an informed decision and it's just not the one you came to.

Once you understand that disagreeing doesn't mean good vs. bad, then you can move forward and figure out what goes in which categories for you, and help your kids get to that point, too. Helping them figure out what they really believe (even if it's different from what you believe!) is a way of helping them develop both strong analytic skills and a strong moral code. And the way to do that is to talk and talk and talk. Let in information that conflicts with what you believe, and talk about that. Ask your son what the other kids are saying, and try to figure out how they came to that point of view. Understanding that side will help you see things from other angles and refine your own views (and be able to defend them intelligently without getting upset).

Disagreement and being able to assimilate and analyze new information is what creates sharp, layered minds. So don't be afraid of the conflicting views. Turn it into a game at the dinner table if you want to by talking about why a view makes sense and why it doesn't. (For those of you who've taken the LSAT, remember the section in which you read an argument and figure out where it's weak?) Let your kids know that information won't hurt them.

How much talking do you guys do about current events, religion, politics, ethical dilemmas, etc? (We've been having lots of discussions about Gaza right now, and were talking constantly during the 2008 elections.) Are there areas in which you feel like you get stuck? How affected do your kids seem to be by the things their peers say? Do any of you live in places where your views are the minority, and how does that affect how you talk to your kids? How old are/were your kids when you started talking about differences?