How to fight the curse of the divergent thinker?
June 10, 2019 3:18 PM   Subscribe

So I think differently. Always have. Given the same evidence as others, I’ll come to a different conclusion. This makes me the target for online trolls, criticism and people who believe the opposite to what I’m saying, which is, well, a lot of people. I hold my beliefs passionately, same as anyone else, and get really fed up of being criticised and told I’m wrong because I am different.

Have you experienced this - how do you cope?
I don’t want to constantly be arguing with people but it seems like the alternative is just not to express myself, which is no good either.
How do I stop the horrible feelings that come from being criticised or told my deeply held belief is wrong? How do I deal with people who won’t listen to what I have to say, but insist on trying to make me fall in with the “party line”?
posted by EatMyHat to Human Relations (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

If it's not at least 2 you don't need to say it.

I argue all the time (debate, talk loud, am critical) but never ever about my "deeply held beliefs" unless the situation meets at least two of the above criteria. Otherwise you're just soliciting disappoinment.
posted by phunniemee at 3:31 PM on June 10 [61 favorites]

I'll try to phrase this gently - you post a lot of questions about why people don't like you enough and how bad it makes you feel. It seems like this touches a lot of areas of your life and is really upsetting. I think strangers on the internet don't have enough context to get at the underlying issues and can testify from personal experience that therapy can help with this.
posted by momus_window at 3:32 PM on June 10 [73 favorites]

Maybe you could steer away from topics where there's a party line or ones where your beliefs are deeply held, and for a while at least stick to expressing yourself on lower-stakes topics and see if that still satisfies your need to express yourself.

For example, editing on Wikipedia I eventually restricted myself to more esoteric and peripheral subjects, since in well-trodden articles whatever I wrote and the research I did would simply get torn to shreds by the sheer weight of casual editors who seemed to want to just make some change, any change at all.

On the other hand, if every opinion you form automatically becomes a deeply held belief to the point where you feel horrible if you are criticised, that seems like a separate problem. But one which might also submit to analysis.
posted by XMLicious at 3:33 PM on June 10 [5 favorites]

I hold my beliefs passionately, same as anyone else, and get really fed up of being criticised and told I’m wrong because I am different.

In my experience, these two expectations - wanting to passionately express opinions, and wanting no opposition, don‘t go well together. And this is independently of the content of your opinions.

If you‘re passionate about your opinions you‘ll get clapback and you can either learn to deflect or rebut it in an enjoyable way (argument truly is an art!), or try to find a group where everyone shares your opinion (this can be hard, yes - and even impossible if you hold unusual opinions).

Not everyone is passionate about their opinions, btw; but that‘s maybe something you don‘t have a lot of control over? I don‘t know. I‘m an ‚arguer‘ myself but a lot of people don‘t enjoy passionate argument, at all.
posted by The Toad at 3:34 PM on June 10 [43 favorites]

I aim for, but don’t always achieve, an air of detached curiosity about the millions and millions of people who are not me and their peculiar divergent opinions. I also remind myself that some of my beliefs have changed, and that others’ beliefs change, too. And I try to admit as much when it happens, and laugh when I find something I believed was silly, whether it is days or years after the fact.
posted by eirias at 3:44 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

So are you really a "divergent thinker" or do you simply hold on to belief as though it were truth? Your opinion about a thing is not equivalent to a fact about a thing, and if you are drawing different conclusions from the same evidence (depending on what we are talking about here), then it may simply be that you are wrong, rather than "divergent".

Thinking differently is important, yes, but not all the time, and not for every thing.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:12 PM on June 10 [35 favorites]

Embrace the tension of difference and the fact that you might be wrong, or that someone else might be wrong and you don’t need to make sure they come around. It’s ok to agree to disagree. It doesn’t make your belief stupid just because someone listens to it and says “no, not for me.” There are a TON of people who get the same feelings you do when people say they are wrong. That’s why people keep pestering you about stuff when they disagree - they want to resolve that feeling of tension and hear “ok, you’re right.” But lots of times, people are kind of wrong and kind of right, even about deeply held beliefs. Embrace the fact that you believe things that other people aren’t certain about. That’s ok. And learn to let go of the need to get validation from other people by never hearing that they disagree. You don’t need other people to validate your deeply held beliefs.

(That is not to say that online trolls or people who disagree with you by expressing hateful or bigoted beliefs are worth tolerating. They aren’t, they suck, and it’s totally normal to feel horrible when interacting with people like this. Put those people aside for the purpose of this question. There are lots of debates about how to handle people like this but not a solid conclusion.)
posted by sallybrown at 4:16 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

And yes, accept that a belief may not be a fact. The fact that your deeply held beliefs can lead to long or involved debates suggests they aren’t verifiable facts, like, what time is it? What’s the capital of New Hampshire? Etc. That also means your beliefs might be wrong or misguided, that you might change them someday, and same for the person debating those beliefs with you. That’s ok. Live with that.
posted by sallybrown at 4:20 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

Given the same evidence as others, I’ll come to a different conclusion.

So, it is hardly surprising that 'others' say you are wrong. On that statement, objectively, you are wrong. Maybe you need to find out why you see thing differently to others? While there is no question that just because 'everybody' sees it one way, that axiomatically 'everybody' is right, it is highly unlikely that they are always wrong and you are always right. Perhaps a bit more respect for others and what others hold, and an enquiring mind as to why they hold that, combined with a willingness to change your mind where necessary, might improve matters.

Dogmatism is the enemy of civil discourse. If you want to engage with others, respect for them and their views is the starting point for all.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:21 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

Why am I engaging in this conversation? Why are they? Is there a possibility that either of us will achieve our goals in this engagement?

If my goal isn't either to learn something about myself, or to change someone else's mind, I stop.

If there isn't a strong likelihood of changing that other person's mind, I stop.

This has both changed how I have conversations with people, and that I have conversations with people. Because in 99.44% of cases where I used to want to engage, the reality is I wasn't gonna change anyone's mind, or if I engaged in the mindset where I started before asking those questions of myself, I was just gonna raise their hackles and get them to dig in deeper.

So the broader question then becomes: Why do I care what they think, that I'd bother to engage?
posted by straw at 4:22 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?

Like, really absorb those words.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:46 PM on June 10 [17 favorites]

Well, you are under no obligation to share your opinion. If you truly want to be less of a target for online trolls, don't share as many of your opinions online. Think of this as picking your battles, maybe: engage where you have time, energy, armor, and inclination -- and where you might have an influence. Don't shout into the wind.

It can be hard to be a woman with strong opinions, I get it (because I am one!). Being a woman on the internet with strong opinions (or any kind of opinion, really) makes this doubly complicated. But truly, there can be a liberation in seeing something you disagree with and moving on. I feel like I learned this a lot through participation here at Metafilter. Sometimes I think "Flag it and move on" when someone has an opinion that bothers me (even when there's not any kind of flagging mechanism). It's good to practice not engaging on every topic.

Is there some missing context where you are in a public space and obligated to share your thinking?

Also, I wonder how it is that you feel like you consistently arrive at different opinions than others. Are you cultivating this? Are you missing something other folks see? Do you feel you have insight they are missing?

Also, I want to agree that this can be a great thing to explore in therapy.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:59 PM on June 10 [4 favorites]

I hold my beliefs passionately, same as anyone else [...]

One small thing: it's not necessarily the case that others are arguing from passionate belief. They may be saying things because they can, to see if they will get away with it, as a way of trying to work out what they actually think, or because they like arguing or probably any of a dozen other reasons. I'm tempted to say you encounter more people who are not arguing sincerely on the internet but I have certainly encountered them face to face. The ones who are arguing because they actually enjoy conflict may be redoubling their efforts to poke at you when they see that they are affecting you emotionally.

What helps me deal with this kind of thing is to remind myself that the encounter likely means something quite different to the other person than it means to me. Once it's not working for me, all I owe the other person is to excuse myself politely.
posted by BibiRose at 5:32 PM on June 10 [8 favorites]

A lot of times, I just don't express myself!

Also, have you tried using Mechanical Turk to test if you really do think differently? From what I understand, each task (like a multiple choice question) is sent to multiple people, and your payout gets dinged if you disagree with a clear majority. You might find that you agree with others more often than you think (and make $0.15 for your troubles)!
posted by batter_my_heart at 5:38 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]

It may sound cheesy, but maybe Marie Kondo's advice applies in this situation. Ask yourself, "does this activity spark joy?"

Declutter your life from the activities that give you horrible feelings.

I find a journal to be very therapeutic. Pretty troll-proof.
posted by mundo at 6:00 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

There is great merit to becoming comfortable with discomfort in certain contexts. Why does criticism make you feel horrible? If you have conviction in your beliefs and someone arguing against them won't change them, why do you feel horrible when they say you're wrong? I'm not saying that you should just roll over and accept cruelty and trolling, but there's a wide area of mental states between pushover and horrible rage machine.

Doing some work on why criticism makes you feel so bad could go a long way towards making you okay with it - or you could go the other direction and do something like an art class where critique is formalized and mandatory to help you become okay with criticism as you are now, and then go back to work on the source of your discomfort.

As for coping, one of the complicated but nice things about the internet is that there is a tiny niche for everybody, and if someone can't find their niche they can make it for approximately free. Maybe you haven't found your little corner online yet where your divergent thoughts are the norm? I say this unironically: have you perused enough subreddits? Not that you should stay in your bubble of reinforcement, but it can be invaluable for coping with the ongoing harshness of life to have a spot where people are all affirming and supportive.

Like for example in a broader sense of identity, I'm Jewish and around christmas time I always find myself craving the company of fellow Jews so we can gather and complain about the pervasive christmasness of everything and make in-jokes and just generally feel seen. It helps keep me from getting too resentful. But I don't isolate myself either, it's just really nice to know there are others out there who feel like I do. I'm sure that no matter how out there your unusual things are that there are others online who share them, and you can find them and support each other. And if you can't find them, make a space for yourself and wait for others to find you.

With kindness, a lot of your questions are about how badly other people make you feel. But I think that some of this is you making yourself feel bad. How much of your passion and intensity is grounded in positive feelings? Sometimes we can get a lot of our energy from reactions to bad experiences or shared traumatic histories and that can lead to conviction and clarity, but also anger and exhaustion. Finding good reasons for your beliefs will help you stay strong in the face of criticism, and seeking positive sources for your atypical conclusions will help you stay confident in them, and coming at things from an angle of kindness and respect towards yourself as well as your dissenters will make existence much less tiring.
posted by Mizu at 6:13 PM on June 10 [10 favorites]

I have a few opinions that are very different from the opinions of a lot of people I know, and I have a few opinions that wouldn’t be accepted in some of the online spaces I frequent. For the most part, I keep these opinions to myself, even though I’m passionate about them.

Now I’m guessing you won’t like this strategy, and I get that. Nobody wants to be quiet about opinions that mean something to them. But the truth is, there is absolutely no real benefit to my sharing these opinions with people who vehemently disagree either in person or online. None. I’m not going to change people’s minds, and they aren’t going to change mine.

If I need to have my opinion validated, I seek out people that I know agree with me - in books or online. Sometimes I talk to my therapist about my frustrations.

But for me, personal relationships are more valuable than saying I’m right. And I just don’t like the way I feel when I argue with a stranger online. Now there are some instances where I’ll express an unpopular opinion and deal with the fallout. I’ll do that if it’s very important to me and if I feel that someone will gain from what I have to say, but for the most part, arguing just isn’t worth it.

Note: this is very different from having a conversation in which you can both really listen to what the other person has to say and are both open to being persuaded.
posted by FencingGal at 6:21 PM on June 10 [12 favorites]

I got a lot less flack when I started being careful to phrase things as opinion instead of fact. It’s hard to tell someone they shouldn’t feel the way they do - at least harder than arguing with a “fact” you think is wrong. When I see things differently, I remain humble and consider there may be facts I don’t know that are informing other people’s opinions. Approaching things as a discussion instead of a debate or argument let’s me hear facts I don’t know and usually keeps people from approaching me with hostility.

I also rarely speak publicly about anything on the internet. Disagreements are for in person not with faceless strangers.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:24 PM on June 10 [7 favorites]

So I work around a lot of "logical types" and sometimes we have down time when not much is going on and sometimes the conversation gets around to things we probably should leave alone at work. I've noticed a thing.

People are ok with respectfully disagreeing with different beliefs and can just let it go. UNTIL, someone says something contrary AND THEN reveals a huge logic gap in reaching that conclusion or just refuses to explain or engage with someone else's thought process and falls back on "well that's just what I believe". That's blood in the water, right there. I usually have to intervene.

So something to watch out for. If you're not willing to discuss it in good faith, DON'T BRING IT UP. That's perfectly ok too.
posted by ctmf at 7:04 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

it is possible that on subjective matters, you are just as right as everyone else, even if others don't see it, and that you deserve a lot more respect and courtesy than you're getting. it's even possible that you're more right than other people. some things are objective and if anyone's right, it might be you, why not.

but it is not possible that on every matter, there are only and exactly two ways of thinking: yours and everyone else's. like you're not wrong (maybe) that you disagree with everybody. you are absolutely wrong -- and willfully unobservant to believe -- that everyone else is therefore in agreement with each other.

the “party line”

belief in one unified "party line" held by everyone who isn't you is not really a sign of divergent thinking.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:32 PM on June 10 [20 favorites]

If you're not willing to discuss it in good faith, DON'T BRING IT UP.

Oh, and silently seething because someone's trashing your deeply-held beliefs, but you can't say anything because you don't want to start an argument... that's not ok either. That's exactly why we shouldn't be talking about these things at work, because not everyone will say something if they're offended.

If it's happening at work, a word aside with your supervisor might help them be more quick to squash that kind of thing before it even gets started.
posted by ctmf at 7:46 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

For me it helps that I have an identical twin brother. We both share a number of views but we have a few that differ. So if two people with supposedly identical DNA (as well as an equivalent childhood environment?) can have divergent views, how much more than two random people off the street? Helps me be more patient and understand that some amount of difference in opinion is a part of life.
posted by mundo at 9:10 PM on June 10 [3 favorites]

What do you want to happen when you passionately declare your opinion - what does that look like? Do you want to persuade, engage, something else? The most likely response is that others will passionately declare their own opinions. To persuade you have to stick with the conversation, listen and respond thoughtfully, without getting overwhelmed.

I'm passionate about a lot of things, but I don't readily discuss my opinions with just anyone (anymore). I've learned that I'm not good at being patient and persuasive, I don't enjoy arguing for its own sake, and I do enjoy quiet, thoughtful discussion with people who may not agree but will prioritize the relationship over the subject by staying polite. I used to be a lot more upfront but I realized over time that I was sometimes coming across as condescending, or as if I cared only about expressing my own ideas and not about other people's feelings.
posted by bunderful at 9:11 PM on June 10 [6 favorites]

If any of this is happening at work then I have found there are two categories of engagement (at work): The first is about the work itself, the other about non-work matters - politics, society, art, sports etc. Inside a workplace, I've found no matter how strongly I feel, the 2nd type of conversation should be had very amicably or not at all. There are also often differing and not necessarily opposing views that can deepen the engagement rather than making it adversarial. Even in debates as extreme as about capital punishment or abortion there is something enlightening about the other sides views, unless they are totally deranged. You might consider using these conversations to broaden your understanding of viewpoints around a topic rather than enter a debate where one side must win. You might also learn something about people and you can decide what kind of relationship you want based on what you've heard.

As for the work related discussions, that's a far more serious matter. If you don't buy into the company way of thinking you will keep butting up against what you are calling the "party line". Then it's time to step back and evaluate if the place is the right fit for you and if the misery of constantly being misaligned with your colleagues is worth it.

Outside of work you have either not found people politically or otherwise aligned with you and you end up in contrarian situations - like, say for example, a democrat at a conservative Thanksgiving table, or the reverse - or you might want to consider where people are coming from even if you disagree with them. Perfect alignment need not be the conclusion of a debate, understanding why people think the way they do is a really enlightening takeaway as well. Pace yourself, the present moment especially is so polarized that we will all exhaust ourselves if we try to convince everyone who disagrees with us.

I'll conclude by saying "do you want to be right or happy" is the worst advice I've heard. It sets up a false dichotomy based on appeasement. It's a defensive position that leads people to not engage at all out of fear of being shunned or shut-up. It also confuses disengagement with harmony. I'd advocate engaging with people but not treating every conversation as the last one that must be settled right there, exchanges are ongoing, work on keeping the lines open rather than silent. And make you're treated well in return too.
posted by whatdoyouthink? at 10:22 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]

So I think differently. Always have. Given the same evidence as others, I’ll come to a different conclusion. This makes me the target for online trolls, criticism and people who believe the opposite to what I’m saying, which is, well, a lot of people. I hold my beliefs passionately, same as anyone else, and get really fed up of being criticised and told I’m wrong because I am different.

You seem to think that "thinking differently" is an immovable aspect of your personality that won't change. I'd gently suggest that it might be as variable as everything else in this world, and you hang on to the "divergent thinker" label because, for some reason, you like or need it.

I'd also suggest that you spend more time and effort in coming up with arguments to support your beliefs. By "argument" I don't mean something combative, I just mean reasoned viewpoints that explain why you think the way you do. Otherwise why should people just accept what you say, just because you believe it passionately?
posted by altolinguistic at 1:26 AM on June 11 [4 favorites]

I also find that arguing with other people makes me feel bad, I think that's a pretty natural human reaction actually. So mostly, I don't argue with people. It never achieves anything except making me feel bad, so why do it? With my loved ones, if it starts to get heated I change the subject unless it is genuinely VERY important to me (not just passionately held, but like, it deeply hurts me that the other person holds this different belief). At work I smile and nod, because it's work and my job is to get along. I try very, very hard not to get drawn into debate on the internet.

Basically, you don't have to express all your opinions. It won't make you any less "you" to keep them to yourself when you know it's going to go bad. I have a few people who are "safe" spaces who I know I can express myself with, and that's good enough for me.

I think it's also hard to answer this question about vague beliefs, because are these beliefs about the best way to cook a steak or code a program? Or something that affects other people's lives? Because if it's the latter, yeah, tread carefully or you're treading on toes and that always leads to hurt feelings.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:14 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Thinking on this some more, I remember that I really enjoyed arguing when I was a young adult, and I don’t much enjoy it now. I’m wondering if this type of thing is analogous to play fighting in young animals: a way to test one’s skills and understanding in a safe situation.

Nowadays, needing to persuade people feels to me like a burden and not a joy. It comes up mostly in situations when I have significant skin in the game. I find being persuaded more fun, because it can be a cheap route to intellectual novelty. Conveniently, it is easier to persuade someone, I think, when they understand that you yourself are open to persuasion. Example: There’s a pair of people I have to interact with regularly about something really important to me, let’s call them Goofus and Gallant. Goofus has a tendency to summarily reject ideas and opinions from other people — one person who spoke to me about her said something like “Goofus is pretty sure she has all the answers, so if she doesn’t know the answer it means there isn’t one.” Gallant, in contrast, established himself early on as someone who listens more than he talks. When Goofus speaks now, I find myself tensing up and withdrawing; when Gallant speaks, I listen because I know that he will do the same for me, and because I trust a person who listens to have good ideas to share, and to know when it is time to share them.
posted by eirias at 4:31 AM on June 11 [10 favorites]

My experience is that people react poorly when they think they are being judged.

This can be overt, like telling someone they should do a thing, or that everyone should do a thing. It can also be more subtle, like getting visibly pissed when they disagree with you.

If you can express your opinion, where it's relevant, and appropriate (ie don't be one of of those people that go on and on their religion, their diet, their exercise regime, politics, polyamory etc when it's not relevant , it's so tiresome.) AND you can do it in a way that other people don't feel diminished by (ie don't insult others for their beliefs, don't try too hard to demolish their arguments, even if you think theyre wrong ), you may be surprised what you can say.

I care passionately about climate change and have extremely left wing politics for the environments I work in. I can talk - to a degree - about this stuff by framing it almost like a hobby of mine that I'm into. And that means just like a hobby, I can't get too het up if others don't care about it. I take a bit of ribbing about it and may also tease myself about it sometimes.

I don't tell others to care about it, listen to me go on about it, make obvious judgments about their opinions on it. I treat it like conversation, not life and death, which is all it mostly is. I value comity a lot, and think it a little self censoring is worth it.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 4:47 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

1) Are you soft spoken? Female presenting? "Nice"? Because if so, some people may be arguing with you, talking over you, and disagreeing with you just to establish some kind of fucked up dominance over you. It has nothing to do with you being wrong. It is okay to tell people "I'm not discussing this with you any longer." It's okay to walk away if you feel bullied. Captain Awkward has a lot of scripts about how to say no and how to establish boundaries.

2) Check out oppositional conversation style. If you're around someone like this at work or at home it can really start to feel like your opinions are always under attack.

3) You can build confidence in your own thoughts and opinions, and be more OK with being different from the group, if you can regularly connect with people on your wavelength. It is such a relief to just gel with a group and not worry about being challenged or mocked or ground down when you express a thought.

4) Self-affirmation. You don't have to write letters to yourself, or talk to yourself in the mirror like Stuart Smalley. But it might be helpful to, for example, write down all the times your intuition was right and use that as a reminder that you do know your shit. I have a little bulletin board with talismans of what I've achieved over the years. If you're in therapy you and your therapist can brainstorm techniques that work for you.
posted by Feminazgul at 6:18 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Just to expand the “right or happy”’s not about where you start conversations. It’s about where you end them. So for a very long time I would keep a discussion/debate/conversation going until I’d “won” (reaches a point where I’d managed to make some kind of irrefutable assertion) or felt I had made enough points. But a lot of times that was more about endurance.

I am still passionate and engaged with things but now I seek to feel out whether the conversation is making the other person or me feel bad, and if we’re getting there, end it before we feel like shit or tired out. It might mean walking away from the comments, or shifting gears to appreciating my mother in law and getting her a snack, even if we don’t agree on the role of unions in a particular arena.

For me, this has dramatically improved my world and relationships. I would in most cases rather leave an interaction feeling positive, meaning connected, rather than that sharp satisfaction that comes from feeling superior, but alone.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:31 AM on June 11 [7 favorites]

"Arguing" and "Not expressing yourself" are not your only options. So you think differently. You're not unique in that.

Be different and have different opinions and learn how to communicate them without arguing if you haven't already. That's the difference between an interesting thinker and a mere contrarian.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:28 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

How do I deal with people who won’t listen to what I have to say, but insist on trying to make me fall in with the “party line”?

Since you can't change other people's behavior, only your own, could you try to model the kind of respectful listening and patience you'd like from other people? I suspect that the people you're talking to have opinions that actually differ from one another, even if in a more nuanced way than yours. You could miss that if you really are assuming that everyone who disagrees with you is sticking to some "party line."

So for instance, if your reflexive reaction to people disagreeing with you is to get defensive and double down, stop for a moment and sit with that - don't respond from that defensive place because that's only going to invite entrenched argument and those bad feelings you mentioned. Remember that the people who disagree probably have reasons for their opinions, too, and come at it from a place of curiosity and openness - "help me understand why you think X".

Of course, this also depends on the situation, so consider the stakes and start asking yourself what situations are worth digging in over and which are good places to practice letting go. Sometimes it really is easier to shrug and recognize that people can disagree. Arguing over some minor norm on a website could be an example of a low-stake situation and it might be easier to accept that there's no "right" way but that there is a preferred site way - you're not diminishing yourself by choosing to accept community norms in such situations. On the other hand, if you're disagreeing with your boss over how much overtime you should work, or, I dunno, with a friend over whether or not they should be driving after a few drinks or with family members over how much control they should have over your life - these kinds of things are clearly worth the discussion/argument. Plenty of things fall between those two poles but my point is that you don't ALWAYS have to fight in order to be true to yourself. Pick your battles, approach disagreements with curiosity rather than defensiveness, and recognize that your "different" way isn't necessarily more "right" - I think you'll be a lot happier if you can do that.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:43 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

How do I stop the horrible feelings that come from being criticised or told my deeply held belief is wrong? How do I deal with people who won’t listen to what I have to say, but insist on trying to make me fall in with the “party line”?

Respectfully, how do you know your deeply held belief is right? How do you know that these people are trying to make you "fall in with the 'party line'" rather than trying to express their own deeply held beliefs?

My Zen teacher recommends keeping the phrase "How do I know that?" at the tip of your mind. Someone says something and you have an immediate "they're wrong" reaction. Ask yourself "How do I know that?" How do you know that they're wrong? How do you know that you're right?
posted by Lexica at 11:25 AM on June 11 [11 favorites]

Check out Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and see if it rings a bell for you.
posted by bunderful at 5:09 AM on June 12

I know this is my third response, so mods feel free to shush me if I’m talking too much, but have you read Crucial Conversations? It addresses this very dilemma and talks about the thought patterns that make it so seductive, and gives alternatives. You might find it uncomfortable to read (I am rereading it now with a specific conflict in mind and I won’t lie, it’s not easy) but I think it could be useful to you.
posted by eirias at 4:41 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]

My issue differs from yours in some ways, OP, but there is also overlap: I have what can only be described (in a brief way) as a very robust, built-in, fully automated nonsense detector. That is to say I have a keen knack for spotting bunk.

This is not limited to other people’s bunk. I am comparably sensitive to my own bunk. I can sometimes reliably sniff out broken arguments even in areas where I lack expertise — because logic gaps can exist independently of the medium.

The one thing this ability has clearly taught over the years: Outside of the narrow silos of hard-won expertise, in general everybody is always wrong about everything. Being wrong unites us all. The human race is one big club of zealous misreasoners. Welcome, all.

I am sometimes hesitant to join an ongoing conversation in which people are making all sorts of bizarre logical leaps, because offering an explanation of how the reasoning seems faulty from my point of view is basically 1) obnoxious; 2) anti-social; 3) unlikely to result in persuasion except in rare circumstances where time, patience and goodwill flow freely; 4) likely to be interpreted as a form of hostility, no matter how gentle the language used.

(I guess I should point out that this is more of an issue in some circles than others — I live and work in a small rural community, where provincial mindsets and superstitious thinking are common.)

How do I deal? Basically, I relaxed my attachment to dispelling falsehoods. I asked myself: Is the true purpose of most interaction a quest for truth? The answer is “No.” Most social exchanges, even about academic, philosophical or scientific topics, are not quests for truth — they are exercises in bonding.

Thus: if I’m obsessed with who is less wrong than whom in a given exchange, I HAVE MISSED THE POINT of the exchange. To chase that goal would be to tilt at windmills.

The bottom line is to ask yourself why you’re talking, and remember that persuasion is often crass and inappropriate in many social contexts. Talk to learn, talk to relate, talk to assure — but don’t talk to prove.
posted by Construction Concern at 1:01 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]

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