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March 8, 2023

Dealing With Controversy

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An unavoidable part of life is controversy. Controversy happens when there’s a disagreement that escalates to massive levels, becoming seemingly irreconcilable. Many people have a natural response to unconsciously exacerbate the situation, making things worse, which of course does way more harm than good. Hopefully the perspective I share today helps you to overcome that.

The core psychology is - When you find yourself being challenged, or that your conclusions are being put into question, it activates a response to get defensive. It comes as a threat to your worldview which you desperately want to maintain. In that way your response to the stimulus is a great mirror for psychological safety.

This causes many people to dig deeper into their opinion, close their minds to alternative explanations, and become much more difficult to negotiate with. At this point, being on the right side of the controversy isn’t just about the immediate facts in question, it has become a representation of your self-image. Very quickly, the stakes can get very high, which is why it’s so difficult for disagreements to reach a good resolution.

So if you find yourself in a controversy, where your character is being put to the test, you too might feel yourself getting protective and defensive. The next time this happens, here are a few things you can do to intercept the thought pattern.

First, think about the ideal outcome. It probably doesn’t involve being in a petty battle with someone. It likely will encourage you to acknowledge and incorporate the other side of things and be empathetic to their viewpoint. Even better if you can communicate this mutual positive outcome.

Then second, I’d encourage you to delay any kind of significant response. When emotions run high and we’re caught off guard, it may provoke us to respond in ways that are out of alignment with who we want to be. This is a core tenet of stoicism - Not letting your emotions influence your decision making. Take some time and slowly let the emotions wear off by doing some deep breathing or using perspective in your self-talk.

We’d all like to think that we have the presence to be our best selves despite adversity and difficult moments. They will inevitably come, and hopefully you feel a little more prepared to have integrity the next time you find yourself in one.

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