top of page
  • Writer's pictureCedar Koons

Not a Zero-Sum Game

It is not uncommon these days to suddenly find oneself in an argument with someone about the world situation, especially the wars we're watching. Even if you've successfully avoided verbal conflicts during the pandemic, the chaos of the Trump administration, and the protests following George Floyd's murder, chances are that in the last six months, you've had arguments about Gaza, Ukraine or the 2024 election. Even small-bore issues like your workplace DEI program, drag queen story hour at the library or raging school board protests can incite verbal fireworks. These are times of heightened emotions, conflict, and division. It's in the zeitgeist and some are fanning the flames.

Rarely are our arguments with total strangers. More often they are with family, neighbors, and dear friends. They might begin as discussions on a topic on which you expect to find agreement. War is bad, right? Killing civilians is wrong, correct? But as the topic unfolds we find that we don't agree so much, if at all. Sometimes the discussions devolve into disagreements over disputed facts and sources. Sometimes relationships get bruised. Perhaps you've spent a sleepless night going over what you wish you hadn't said or hadn't heard said.

As I've negotiated my way through the world situation recently I've started to gain clarity about how I need to approach controversial topics. First I've come to see how important it is to be clear about my values as pertain to the issues I'm facing. Situations change but my deeply valued principles should not change. When I decide my stance on any given issue my values must be paramount.

Then I have to ask myself how informed am I? Have I read widely in peer-reviewed sources that emphasize news over opinion and polemic? Am I careful with anecdotal and biased reporting? Do I understand the history of the conflict? Have I checked and rechecked the facts? One can never be certain if information is correct or whether it is disinformation, but one can do one's very best to find out.

Then comes the decision about how to talk about it. Again, this is complicated. But I have found that when I know my position is based on my values and the information I've gathered I can speak with more clarity and (sometimes!) less emotion. From clarity I might be more effective at getting my viewpoint heard while remaining calm and less likely to say something I'll regret in the middle of the night! I also have a better chance of keeping silent if I determine that is the best plan under the circumstances. Sometimes it will do nothing but harm to share your opinion.

Having an opinion, even a strong one, is not a zero-sum game. My opinion doesn't infringe on anyone's right to disagree or have their own opinion. The fact that I have an opinion does not make me right or wrong. The fact that I share my opinion can lead me to more understanding, self-respect, and perhaps even influence, as long as I do it mindfully.


bottom of page