As I reflected on my last post on seeking truth and maintaining cordial relations with others despite our disagreements, I felt that something was missing. So I figured I’d do a follow up post that offers some balance. What was missing was an acknowledgment of the unfortunate reality that despite our intentions of good will, there will always be those we meet who are coercive, exploitive, and downright combative. And many ideologically driven people feel the need to coerce others into assenting to their views. I suspect that this may be true of most societies, but we certainly live in a society that places enormous pressure on those who hold any sort of virtuous ideology to compromise their beliefs.
Can we seek the truth, be humble when dealing with those who disagree with us, and yet stand firm on what we believe is right? How do we deal with those who refuse to take a similar approach to us? While the focus of my last post was a plea to not let our differences divide us, I do believe that there will be times when we will be left with little choice but to part ways with others and minimize our association with them.
I can think of four reasons that would reasonably cause us to choose to minimize our association with others. These are stated as generalities, and you may find that there are exceptions.
1. When they demonstrate a disregard for the truth
This is someone who knows the right thing to do, but deliberately disregards it. This person’s worldview intentionally disregards the truth. If we are committed to seeking the truth, then close association with those whose goal is diametrically opposed to ours will be detrimental to our pursuit.
2. When they demonstrate that a personal agenda is driving their conduct
This is a person who acts in a completely self-serving manner and seeks to exploit others. Our desire to live at peace with others places us under no obligation to let people exploit us. I would contend that it is better to minimize our association with these people rather than invite needless conflict.
3. When, sincere or not, their behavior is demonstrated to be destructive to you
Some people hold sincere beliefs that are destructive to others. We are under no obligation to allow their destructive behavior to affect us or our families. This is a warning to be on guard against those who follow destructive practices. Many sincere people fall into this category, which means they themselves want to follow the truth and do not intend to be exploitive. Nevertheless, the path they are following is proving to be harmful. Use good judgment and avoid following them in their destructive behavior.
4. When they try to coerce you into assenting to a belief that you think is wrong
These people frequently hold the view that they have arrived at the ultimate truth and try to force this view on others either by berating them or by harnessing mass peer pressure. While we should have a humble attitude regarding our opinions, we are under no obligation to assent to ideologies that we believe to be wrong. Remember that we have two aims: our quest for the truth and good relations with others. We must walk the fine line of relentlessly pursuing the truth while humbly learning from others. When we encounter people who are less interested in collaborative learning and more interested in forcing others to conform to their worldview, then we should consider parting ways as amicably as possible.
Our interaction with others should be guided by love rather than strife. This does not mean that we need to fearfully capitulate to false worldviews. In any case, our response to exploitive, destructive, or coercive people should be as kind and forgiving as we are able, yet we should not partake in behavior that we feel is wrong. Sometimes, it’s best to follow the advice of Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” It’s not going to be easy, but hey, if life were easy, what would be the point?