In War’s Why Can’t We Be Friends?, the line “why can’t we be friends?” is repeated 44 times and makes up 94% of the entire song. I’ve asked myself this question hundreds of times. Why can’t people seem to agree on anything?
One guy says something, another guy comes back with something else. A woman posts something nice on Facebook and people can’t wait to give it a piece of their mind.
Are people hardwired to argue? Were we made to never accept another person’s point of view without feeling resentment or bitterness? I find myself talking about this more and more in a goal to raise awareness but even I can never get anyone to agree. They always have something else to say.
The paradox of dealing with people
The first two chapters of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People pertain to the paradox of dealing with people. In the first chapter, he talks about how criticism works. He goes on to say, “Criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. [It] is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment.”
However, in the second chapter, he brings up a topic that describes every person’s greatest desire. Sigmund Freud says everything you and I do springs from two motives: the sex urge and the desire to be great. William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” And John Dewey, one of America’s most profound philosophers, said that the deepest urge in human nature is “the desire to be important.”
I say paradox because for someone to become happy, she needs to feel great about herself. She needs to be able to display superiority among her fellow women while, at the same time, be held at a high regard. However, for this set of people to agree with her, she has to avoid doing the same things I just mentioned.
She shouldn’t, at any time, make them feel inferior — less important. Receiving harsh criticism from another person out of establishing dominance tends to put most people on the defensive.
Adding to this, they can’t unfortunately be equals. She must give way and instead make them feel important, great, and appreciated — forgoing her own desires for the same.
Happy Christmas and Merry New Year
How many people in your Facebook timeline does a variation of the greeting “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year?” Like “Happy Christmas” and perhaps “Merry New Year” just so they don’t yield to society and the norm?
Play this game. Scroll through your friends list on Facebook and spot someone who doesn’t ever like (the Facebook feature) any of your posts. It’s best to find someone active on Facebook who has added several posts recently. In the same way, this should be someone you haven’t interacted with for some time.
Go to his profile page and scroll down. Like two to three of his recent posts. Give it a day or two and post something interesting. Watch how this person, all of a sudden, hit like on what you just posted. It works 80–90% of the time, trust me.
Everyone wants to be unique — to be special — and no one likes to give in first. Every person needs to get a feeling of importance and display superiority among others. You yield, you lose. But do you really?
No one likes a compliment
“Everyone likes a compliment,” wrote Abraham Lincoln to Thurlow Weed in 1865. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Well, okay, everyone likes a compliment but they don’t want to show it or for people to know they actually do.
This is why it’s especially hard to make people accept compliments right away. Same with accepting someone else’s side of the argument, there’s usually some inner struggle within the person telling her not to simply agree with what the other person is saying.
Try it. Tell someone how nice her hair is or praise his choice in footwear. I guarantee you’ll get answers like “oh, it’s just your regular shampoo” or “it’s a knockoff” respectively — anything that would downplay the compliment they were given.
I urge you to examine yourself. How many times do you catch yourself using the word “no” to begin your reply whenever someone else brings up a point? As humans, it’s unnatural for us to stand down against our fellow species.
The people who write our stories
In his book Predictably Irrational, the behavioral economist Dan Ariely ran an experiment in a North Carolina brewery where they served people free samples of beer. They wanted to find out if having to ask each person in a group to state his or her order ultimately influences the choices of the other people sitting around the table.
They presented different groups with four kinds of beer and proceeded to take their orders. In the first set of people, they did away with menus. They described each beer out loud in front of the group and had each individual state his or her choice.
They found out that people within the group tend to order something different from the previous person — perhaps to show that they had a mind of their own and they weren’t trying to copy the others. They did it to convey their individuality — their uniqueness.
However, when Ariely and his team changed the way they were taking orders — handing the participants a small menu with the names of the beers and tick boxes beside each one; ultimately making it a private affair — they saw that not only were the participants more likely to order the same kind of beer, they were also much more satisfied with their choices when asked later on.
Everyone likes to think they make their own choices — free from outside forces that might influence decisions otherwise. But they couldn’t be more wrong.
While we hope and strive to become captains of our own ships, we actually end up having other people influence and ultimately state our choices just because we prefer not to see ourselves doing anything someone else has already done.
This is why everyone in your Instagram feed is desperately trying to be different — sometimes forcing themselves to eat food or to go on trips they wouldn’t normally agree to eat or go to. Why do you think you and your friends ask each other what they’re going to order prior to actually ordering in McDonald’s?
“If you have ever grumbled at your mother when she tells you to put on a coat or felt your blood pressure rise when your boss micromanages you, you have experienced what psychologists term reactance, the hair-trigger response to threats to your autonomy.” — Nir Eyal, Hooked
So, what now?
Every single person will have an opinion. Ignore it and you will lose a listener. Challenge it and you lose the chance to gain a friend. Take the time to listen to it and acknowledge it and you will have earned yourself a great listener and an enduring friend.
As opposed to the antiquated phrase, nothing is actually gained in agreeing to disagree. Someone has to give way. If someone is making a subjective point over which beer tastes better, give it to him by agreeing. Trying to prove a point in something trivial or isn’t a matter of life and death does no one any good.
“If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will”. — Ben Franklin
It’s 2017. Be the change you want to see in the world.
The urge to be great, to be correct, to be superior far outweighs our rationality as humans. Make it about the other person this time around. Make their day by commenting something nice on their Facebook post. Make them feel great. It takes a whole lot of patience and self-control but it’s damn worth every bit of both.
I want to end with some words of wisdom that I, myself, still struggle with even up to this day. Dale Carnegie once said, “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it,” and he couldn’t have been any more right. Don’t get me wrong, providing another point of view isn’t entirely wrong. It’s just that sometimes, it is not what the other person is looking for.
Here’s your call-to-action. Don’t let conversations turn into arguments. You want to be heard? Listen. You want to be liked? Acknowledge. You want to be loved? Care. It’s that simple.