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How to get along with people who have different Metaphysical viewpoints

  1. Feb 20, 2012 #1
    Basically, I am looking for advice about how to get along and work with people who have very different ontological ways of interpreting the world. It is not that I am hostile or aggressive to such people, but that I often express my view or opinion, and people have related to me that I come off as arrogant or a know-it-all.
    Like for example in talking with someone who doesn't believe in evolution. Me=m T=them
    T: "I wish you would respect my beliefs."
    M: "I respect you, and you're certainly entitled to believe whatever you want."
    T: "But you feel that my belief isn't as equally valid as yours."
    M: "Yes, that's fair."
    T; "Why can't you be more open-minded?"
    M: "I believe that there is to some extent an objective reality that we can model. My beliefs reflect this reality and yours don't"
    T: "That's your opinion."
    M: "No, it's an objective truth."

    This would usually be the time when the person would get annoyed and drop the subject. I'm bringing this up because there is someone I have to be working with closely who has a lot of very different views then I do (very strongly believes in energy fields, spirits, auras, etc.). Do you think it would be better to discuss our differences before we work together? Just try to not talk about it? Has anyone had to deal with a similar situation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 20, 2012 #2


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    Hey Galteeth.

    My advice to you is pretty simple: either you compromise in some way or find other people to converse with.

    This is my philosophy (IMO disclaimer): everyone is entitled to an opinion no matter how absurd or otherwise it may seem.

    In fact you might learn something important from the uneducated person down the road if you just suspend your disbelief for a few minutes. It's not about being right or wrong, there is only relativity between things. The minute you start to think about things in terms of right or wrong you are created an artificial prison in your mind which acts like seeing the world through a special filtered lense.

    We all make decisions about how we spend our time and that includes who we choose to talk and/or listen to, and what we tend to focus on and you are no different. You like everyone else have the right to do your own thing, choose what to focus on, and choose who to talk or have some kind of relationship with.

    But let me say this: I think that everyone deserves a level of respect no matter who they are. If someone is uneducated, uninformed, spouts religious nonsense or whatever they still deserve some level of respect as a human being. You may think they are uneducated, uninformed, and absolutely insane but they deserve to be treated like a human being regardless and if you miss this very important point, then I really think that you will have a lot of problems down the road of life and perhaps even miss out on many of the important lessons that are there for the taking.

    If you want to think about things strictly in terms of right and wrong and always challenge people in a way that makes them uncomfortable that is your choice, but don't be surprised if you get bad responses when you don't show a little empathy and basic respect towards someone else.
  4. Feb 20, 2012 #3
    Ok. Perhaps then the question I should be asking is how to do the above (show empathy and respect in such situations.) I guess I don't feel like I am being disrespectful, but it apparently comes off that way to some people. This upcoming situation is a unique case where I have to work closely with someone.
  5. Feb 20, 2012 #4
    Ivan Seeking once posted an essay by a woman who was into auras and all that who finally decided at some point to investigate what science was all about. She was completely amazed the more she learned about it and had previously had no idea what science types meant by being able to objectively ascertain anything, which sounded like arrogance to her. She had started to realize it wasn't.

    In her spiritual world everything was governed by attitude, and everything's about your relationship to other people and the universe. If auras or fairies exist in anyone's mind that's reason enough to respect the idea. To disrespect it is bad juju, or whatever; sowing bad energy that will come back to you. All this is paramount.

    Science, where people actually go out and investigate physical phenomena, collect data, and form their views based on observation, is an activity they never engage in, and don't understand. This woman, though, was getting it, and was suddenly understanding the resistance scientific or rational types always had showed to her beliefs.

    Maybe Ivan can remember where he found that link. It was actually fascinating. It's exactly what you need to understand this co-worker.
  6. Feb 20, 2012 #5


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    Before I give a response I want to say that this is a two-way thing: both people need to make the effort to do so, so don't think I'm just saying that 'you are the only one in the wrong, pull your weight'.

    Also I want to say that as human beings we make mistakes, get cranky, have experiences which clearly are almost mutually exclusive to other peoples and other things. Bottom line is we all are human and we all see through some kind of lense and are vulnerable to our downsides as human beings.

    The best piece of advice I could probably give you is two-fold: it combines the suspension of disbelief, simple laws of logic and patience.

    The first thing to do is to let people spill their guts to you and listen. If someone doesn't shutup then you could ask them to get to the point (which is reasonable) but the point is to give them the courtesy to make their point completely.

    What this does is it lets them outline their idea in an uninterrupted way which not only shows respect, but it means that you don't get into a pre-emptive argument and create a situation where it becomes so heated that emotions really come into play.

    While you do the above you have to suspend your disbelief to allow you to hear them out: probably the hardest for anyone to do but it has to be done whether they have any truth in their viewpoint or not.

    Once you have given them an ample opportunity to speak, then comes in the logic part.

    Mathematical logic says that if you want to disprove a generalization, then you find one counterexample and you are done. If you want to disprove one example, then you need to prove the generalization.

    As you can see its very hard for someone that wants to prove the general thing because it only takes one counterexample to say 'see you're wrong'. It is a lot easier though if you want to show that one particular example is right and proving a generalization that doesn't include that is certainly going to be a lot of work.

    So after you have suspended your disbelief, given the person ample opportunity to put their case forward, then you can fallback on logic by considering everything fairly and giving a response.

    Now of course if the other person isn't willing to play ball then you have done all you could to encourage a fair unbiased conversation (as best as you can, we're all biased in some way!) and that is that.

    The thing is that you can't force people what to think: they have to come to it in their own way. That way may be in a deceptive manner, but never the less they have to be ones that end up being convinced themselves.

    It might be because someone else told them that they consider as reliable, it may that they found it out due to their own experience or it may even be because it is somehow 'intuitive'.

    Also if you end disagreeing about most things, you will still get respect if you just treat them like you would expect someone to treat you.

    Remember it's not always about right or wrong: things are just relative to each other.
  7. Feb 20, 2012 #6
    Metaphysics are the new religion. In the US today people tend to avoid discussing certain things like religion and politics. They've learned the hard way that some subjects are just best avoided in polite company and the workplace. Its a pragmatic approach that works in multicultural environments.

    The problem is that often people don't even recognize their beliefs as being metaphysical. The idea that the moon is there when no one is looking, for example, is commonly assumed to be an established fact even among scientists. In competitive and contentious modern democracies its a recipe for instant arguments. The real issue then is how capable are you of avoiding arguments and how much is arguing worth your while in any given situation.

    The Enlightened
    Honest people use no rhetoric;
    Rhetoric is not honesty.
    Wise people are not cultured;
    Culture is not wisdom.
    Content people are not rich;
    Riches are not contentment.

    So the gentle do not serve themselves;
    The more they do for others, the more they are satisfied;
    The more they give, the more they receive.
    Nature flourishes at the expense of no one;
    So the gentle benefit all and contend against none.
    Lao Tzu
  8. Feb 20, 2012 #7


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    I have a good friend that I've known for many years. We meet infrequently but when we do it's always great to see each other unless the subject of religion comes up. He is a very dedicated Catholic and I am not religious at all, the problem comes because we both have strong views on a variety of subjects and every now and then in conversation I feel like I'm hitting the "wall of faith" wherein he has an opinion that he holds because of his religion. This usually ends up in hours of quite heated and aggressive arguments.

    The way we have approached this is to understand that it is inevitable. He knows that I do not respect his religion nor his beliefs and in topics where he makes a judgement/decision based on his religion his opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and I fully respect his right to have an opinion but I do not have to respect what it is he thinks. In other words

    Respect for the right to have an opinion =/= respect for someone's opinion

    Personally if someone bases their opinion on a irrational/illogical/non-evidenced model then I wont respect that opinion. Having said all this it is important to compartmentalise; it doesn't matter if "Them" from your office's IT department believes that his shoe started the universe if he's great at fixing your computer (although be wary that the model they use to determine the shoe universe creator may seep out).

    My last piece of advice would be to think about this:
    - Do you want to befriend them?
    - Do you think that you would be able to ignore their faith?
  9. Feb 20, 2012 #8
    1. Yes
    2. The situation is sort of bizarre and complicated. I think the best thing to do is to have a frank discussion. I guess I'm just worried because as i said, in the past, i seem to wind up offending people who are close friends.

    Thanks for the advice everyone. The link mentioned in an earlier post sounded interesting. If somebody has that I'd be interested in reading it.
  10. Feb 20, 2012 #9
    Ivan started a thread based on the essay in S&D, there was a quote from it and a link to it. I don't recall the woman's name or the thread title. Ivan is the best bet for that.
  11. Feb 20, 2012 #10


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    Just don't talk about things that are problematic.
  12. Feb 20, 2012 #11
    When I have conversations with people like this I usually choose not to get along with them. If you work closely with them on a daily basis then your only real choice is just to not to talk about such beliefs or things that would upset such a person.
  13. Feb 20, 2012 #12


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    I worked with a Young Earth Creationist. He was always saying that science was fraud. One of his most memorable lines was "you can make anything out of a pile of bones". He didn't believe dinosaurs were real. Anything that didn't literally support the bible was a conspiracy to destroy Christianity.

    We agreed that certain topics were not appropriate while working.
  14. Feb 20, 2012 #13


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    It's difficult because inevitably what someone believes will affect their actions, this is even more true of the mechanism by which they choose what to believe. In some circumstances it is possible that what they believe and why wont affect you relationship with them (i.e. a professional one) but if they are particularly fanatical and out there this will not be the case.
  15. Feb 20, 2012 #14


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    It's ironic that a lot of people here seem to genuinely believe that people with irrational beliefs are going to be unprofessional about it to the point that nobody is saying that being the first person to bring up the topic is a pretty terrible idea. If someone is going to be pushy about their beliefs in a professional setting let them bring it up and tell them you aren't interested in talking about it. Bringing it up first is an invitation to talk about it and worse could be interpreted as you pushing your beliefs on someone else
  16. Feb 20, 2012 #15
    "you have a right to your own opinions, but not to your own facts"
    Daniel Patrick Moynihan
  17. Feb 20, 2012 #16
    I'd guess that a majority of people have had to deal with a similar situation. Wrt my personal experience, I've come to agree with the approach advocated by several contributors to this thread -- which is to avoid the sorts of conversations that your OP is concerned with, and to not be the one to bring up opinions about controversial subjects wrt which unresolvable disagreements might damage the working relationship and which have nothing to do with that relationship.

    People who hold to irrational beliefs aren't going to be, for the most part, imo, swayed by evidence or rational arguments to the contrary, much less via casual discussions that can sometimes get a bit emotionally competitive.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2012
  18. Feb 20, 2012 #17
    You will find little rationality to the majority of believes, even your own. Just don't fret too much on it.

    (Personally, I like logic and ethics and stuff -used to teach it twenty years ago, it's a hobby,- and I find it funny why people do or think stuff. There's way less reason to most stuff than you think.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 20, 2012
  19. Feb 20, 2012 #18


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    Re the bolded text: that's so true! In fact, once people are in that state of mind, your facts and data only make them dig in deeper.
  20. Feb 20, 2012 #19

    Ivan Seeking

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  21. Feb 20, 2012 #20
    There are two kinds of people in the world - a.) those who study the facts and form their beliefs from those facts and b.) those who select the beliefs they wish to be true and seek out only those facts that agree with these beliefs.

    Some of my family came to the US from northern Ireland. We had very simple rules for adult conversation. One avoided three topics - religion, politics and sex.

    Discussing either of the first two would get you killed very quickly.
    Discussing the third - if you had to talk about it you were obviously not participating.

    Even though we're now several generations away from that war torn time where bombs were placed in baby carriages these three rules seem very sensible.

    If you are an a.) and have to work with a b.),they are particularly applicable.
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