Let’s face it: people are more divided than ever before. Especially in the United States, where political tensions have reached a boiling point (and in many cases have long since passed it), it’s hard to imagine a time when people were not forceful—if not downright belligerent—about their beliefs. Quite frankly, it’s hard to watch. Especially because I firmly believe that it’s possible to be both unapologetic AND kind.
Here’s what I mean.
OR vs. AND
Some people see the spectrum of opinion as less of a spectrum and more of a dichotomy: it’s black and white, in or out, this or that. When you look at things this way, you tend to develop an OR way of thinking.
You’re either liberal OR conservative.
They are with us OR they’re against us.
You agree with me OR you don’t.
There’s no middle ground or room for interpretation.
Another manifestation of this comes in the way you present your arguments: you’re either forceful OR respectful, arguing OR being a pushover, standing up for your beliefs OR being complicitly silent.
You’re either being unapologetic—refusing to back down from what you believe. . .
OR you’re being kind—working to listen, understand, and respect other viewpoints.
If you’re being unapologetic, you can’t be kind, because you’re not apologizing for your opinions and are refusing to give even an inch of leeway.
If you’re being kind, you can’t be unapologetic, because you’re not being forceful or strong; you’re being weak and cowardly.
I can understand why people feel this way. Most of the commentary we see—whether on the news, on social media, or even in in-person conversations between friends—falls decidedly to one end of the spectrum or the other.
But I would like us to move away from that line of thinking. I would like us to embrace the AND way of thinking.
The AND way of thinking
The AND way of thinking allows for middle ground. It creates space for shades of gray between the black and white extremes. AND allows people to:
- Have liberal AND conservative viewpoints
- See your side of the argument AND their side of the argument
- Agree with you in some ways AND disagree with you in others
Learning to make room for this way of thinking also allows us to apply AND to the way we argue.
You can be forceful AND respectful, a convincing debater AND a compassionate listener, a fighter AND a peacekeeper.
You can be unapologetic AND kind.
Why you would want to be unapologetic AND kind
There are a few reasons why it’s important to be unapologetic and kind.
People are more likely to listen to you.
People who feel listened to are more likely to listen. When was the last time you saw someone actually win an argument on Facebook? (Yeah, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it, either.) It’s a rare phenomenon, because arguments on Facebook are usually missing a key component of communication: listening. People on Facebook talk at each other, not to each other. And when you don’t feel listened to, there is no way you’re going to stop talking until you do.
So, if you want to have any hope of winning an argument—or at least convincing someone of one of your points—then you have to commit to listening to their points as well. Kindness can go a long way in opening people’s minds and hearts.
You might learn something new
Being unapologetic and kind might inspire others to learn from you, but it also might encourage you to learn from others. And believe it or not, that might be a good thing.
Even if you don’t “change your mind” about something, you could at least start to understand a different point of view, which could be extremely valuable down the road.
You’re being more true to yourself
Here’s what I believe about people. I believe that deep down, most people are naturally both unapologetic and kind. I think people have their beliefs that they love and hold fast to—beliefs that they are willing to fight for. I also believe that most people are kind, or at least have a desire to be kind. Kindness is one of those virtues that everyone seems to agree is “good,” and I think most people strive to let their kindness shine through more often than not.
I believe that because of this, learning to be unapologetic and kind will help you feel like the truest version of yourself. You’ll be able to stand up for your beliefs and opinions while also being a kind, respectful person. That is who you truly are. Learn to manifest it.
A note about boundaries
Let me pause here to offer some important clarification about OR vs. AND thinking. A lot of times, AND thinking will serve our purposes better than OR thinking will. When we make room for gray areas, we open pathways to understanding and connection, and both parties walk away from an interaction feeling heard, respected, and (if you’re lucky) even a little more educated.
That said, I have to acknowledge that there are times when crystal clear boundaries must be set. You do not have to see the gray areas, for example, in abuse. You can create boundaries for yourself and your loved ones that protect your safety and wellbeing.
Yes, it’s important to look for gray areas and practice kindness, but only within the boundaries of physical, mental, and emotional safety that you’ve set for yourself.
How to be unapologetic AND kind
Reaching that magical balance of unapologetic and kind might seem impossible, especially if you’re in the middle of a Facebook fight, or thinking about that conversation you had last week with your “extreme” family member. But I promise, it’s possible.
These principles will help.
On Design.org, we’ve talked a lot about love vs. fear: what that means, why it matters, and how to choose love over fear. One of the biggest distinctions I see between love and fear is:
- Fear is a negative energy that pushes you away from something you don’t want
- Love is a positive energy that pushes you toward something you do want
When you’re trying to be unapologetic and kind, come at the problem from a place of positivity. Instead of tearing down the other person’s argument (think: every political campaign ad ever), focus instead on building up your argument. Fight for what you want, rather than fighting against what you don’t want.
It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Approaching a disagreement with love in your heart can help you stand up for your beliefs while also treating the other party with respect.
Practice active listening.
Remember: listening is key to any effective communication. Talking at someone isn’t going to force them to listen to you. But if you want someone to listen to you, you have to return the favor and listen to them.
Show the other person that you are listening by being an active listener. Respond directly to their words. Repeat back what they say. Don’t interrupt when they are talking. Maintain eye contact. Use your body language to communicate that you are present in the conversation. All these things can help the person feel like you are taking the conversation seriously, and that you actually care to hear what they have to say. This is practicing kindness, while also opening the door for you to voice your own opinions and beliefs.
Look for common ground.
As different as we feel we are from those “other” groups, the fact is that we almost always have something in common with them. It can be easy to assume that you know everything there is to know about a particular group (e.g. “Everyone who watches that news network believes [x],”) but we rarely know the whole story.
When you establish common ground, you build trust. You open the way for more honest communication. You invite vulnerability and openness.
Listening can help you find some common ground. Listen for them to say something you agree with. Explicitly state that you agree with them. Try to build off of the concept you agree on as you move forward. And if things get heated, fall back on your commonalities, rather than doubling down on your differences.
Focus on ideas.
More than anything else, speakers want listeners to understand their ideas. That might seem obvious, but think about all the times we don’t actually focus on the idea being presented. Often, we instead nitpick on the words they choose to use, or zero in on a punctuation or spelling error in their post.
Don’t get me wrong: words matter. Grammar matters. Being able to express your ideas in a way that other people will understand matters. But when you’re on the listening end of an argument, it’s your responsibility to give the person a little grace. Instead of making fun of them for poor word choice, ask for clarification. Instead of deliberately interpreting their words to mean something you know they don’t mean, restate their idea in a clearer way, and move on. Give the attention and power to the ideas, rather than the more minor details. The ideas are what really matter in any disagreement, after all.
Relay the facts.
Facts are incredible to have on your side during an argument, because they, by definition, are indisputable. A fact—something that has been proven and substantiated multiple times by multiple sources—is not subject to popular or personal opinion. A fact is a fact is a fact.
Whenever possible, back up your opinion with facts. Back up your facts with credible sources. Facts allow you to be both unapologetic and kind because they, in and of themselves, are neutral. Someone can’t take a fact personally, because it doesn’t have anything to do with them personally. It’s simply what is true. Present facts that support your argument in a respectful way. Don’t throw them in the other person’s face.
Being able to actively be unapologetic and kind takes practice. The current way our society works is, quite honestly, not supportive of such a balanced approach. News outlets and social media are designed to get us riled up and allow us to express ourselves freely (which sometimes means harshly). As opinions get stronger and rifts grow deeper, the need for kind and civil discussion only increases.
As creatives, I believe we can lead this charge. I believe that creatives are some of the most powerful people in the world—people who approach problems in new and unique ways, who are able to see things from multiple perspectives, and who have an innate desire to do and spread good in the world.
We can be—we must be—unapologetic and kind. Let’s set the example. Let’s be the change. I know we can do it.
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