We may have to disagree, but we don’t have to be disagreeable

While interacting with others, we may find some people’s opinions utterly unacceptable. Their perspective and understanding may be so different from ours that we can’t but disagree. Still, we don’t have to be disagreeable. That is, we don’t have to let their opinions, even if outrageous, make us react unbecomingly, be it by name-calling, back-biting, gossiping or just becoming foul-tempered.

Krishna demonstrates how to disagree respectfully in the Bhagavad-gita (18.03) while discussing how to avoid karmic bondage. Some say that since all work is faulty, it should be invariably given up. Others say that actions such as sacrifice, charity and austerity purify; so, work that purifies shouldn’t be given up. Later, Krishna gives his definitive conclusion: work with dutifulness and detachment (18.06).

Though those recommending renunciation hold an opinion different from his, indeed opposite of his, still Krishna doesn’t speak negatively about them. In Gita (18.03), he refers to them respectfully with the honorific manisina: those who have controlled their minds and are therefore thoughtful. Why is Krishna so respectful? Because they are pursuing a higher purpose. Most people simply live materialistically, unmindful that such living leads to bondage. Special are those who are thoughtful enough to recognize the futility and folly of materialistic living – and are pondering how to stay disentangled and become liberated. He appreciates their thoughtfulness, even when their specific thought runs contrary to his.

Similarly, even when we need to disagree with someone, we can still look for something in them that we can appreciate. That they are concerned about the issue may itself be appreciable, even if their specific take isn’t.

By learning to see the good in others, we can disagree without being disagreeable, thereby make both our heart and our world more peaceful and harmonious for our and others’ spiritual evolution.

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