The people in my family are all idealists with strong beliefs.  As you might imagine, many of our beliefs clash.  The conflict was messy and continuous until we learned a simple skill.

“Put it on the shelf.”  By this we mean that, if we disagree, and both sides have stated their positions, and listened, and elaborated, and still are no closer to agreement, we will put the disagreement away for a while.  No chewing it over yet again, no cleverly sneaking it into offhand remarks, etc.  For how long?  It depends on how big the issue is, and how much our disagreeing about it is affecting our day-to-day lives.  Sometimes we put it on the shelf for a week, sometimes for a year or two.

The thing is, if I believe something strongly, and someone dear to me persists in trying to change my mind about it, it can hurt or anger me.  I feel disrespected, ignored.  The harder they try, the more I dig in my heels.  How many times has your blood boiled when someone has said — either overtly or without even realizing it — “You have to agree with me.  In fact, you really do agree with me, and you’ll realize it once I’m done educating you.”

However, I do change my beliefs from time to time.  Sometimes I’ll learn something new and change my belief completely.  Sometimes I’ll just think about it in a slightly different way.  Sometimes it will just become less important to me as life goes in a different direction than I expected.   It can be a bit of surprise when I and a loved one take our disagreement “off the shelf” and talk about it again.  We may not disagree in the same way anymore.  My loved one may have changed his or her belief in a way I couldn’t have imagined (or finagled with all of my reasoning and persuasive skills).

Or not.  We might still disagree quite a bit, or even more.  So back up on the shelf it goes.

Is this easy?  Not always.  Sometimes, watching someone I love live out a belief that goes against my every understanding can be excruciating.  The past U.S. election, for example, was gut-wrenching in my house.  But my family members and I got many chances to respect one another, to be compassionate and gentle.  And we still don’t agree.

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