CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Is it just me or are our fuses getting shorter? Maybe it's the political season or the 24-hour cable news shows. It just seems we've become more entrenched in our own points of view and unwilling to listen to those of others.Then again, there's so much information overload that we need to take shortcuts. So, the sound bites prevail. And that's OK -- as long as we realize that's what they are.Have you been in groups lately where the conversation is heavily dominated by a particular viewpoint? You want to weigh in, but wonder if it's worth the trouble. After all, even as you position your fork for that next bite, you fear you'll get eaten alive.This has always happened in our society. Strong voices drown out the others. Which brings up one of my favorite seminar questions: "Would you rather be right -- or happy?"An informal poll of today's discussions may have us believe a lot of folks would rather risk healthy relationships and happiness to prove themselves "right."Bullying happens at all ages.It's easier to grab the pithy sound bite -- and repeat it in a dogmatic fashion -- than to drill down for the facts that could lead to a healthy debate. Who has time for that?With the abundance of information -- and our limited time to absorb every facet of a concept -- it may be a good idea to stop and realize we may not know everything. Beware of "absolutes" in conversation, and take any statement that's peppered with "always" or "never" with a grain of salt. (We learned this in school with multiple-choice questions.)So, how do we balance those inner questions:
I can't believe what he just said. She always hogs the conversation. Here we go again -- the air is getting sucked right out of the room. I'd jump in, but what's the point? What a jerk! If I wasn't so scared of ruffling feathers, I'd give him a piece of my mind. Watch out -- here I come! Speaking up will only get me in trouble. I can't believe I'm doing this again, staying silent while I'm seething inside. I can't believe I just blew up again! If we can only make it through dessert ...So, which cues are right to follow? Everything is subjective. Just pay attention to how you feel.Stop and consider whether you may be coming on like a bulldozer. Give somebody else a chance to present their views. You may even learn something. Imagine that!On the other hand, you may choose to keep your thoughts to yourself -- for a number of reasons. If you find you're repeating this pattern over and over again, though, you may want to stop and think what it's doing to you. As long as you can reconcile the behavior within yourself, that's all that matters. If you start to feel like a doormat or a pushover, though, that's not healthy.A few nonthreatening "bridge" phrases could be helpful to break the ice: I see your point. In my experience, though ... You know, in that context it seems totally rational. But how about ...? Not everything is so black and white, though. (Insert example.) Wait a minute. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.And my personal favorite four words to defuse any argument in its tracks -- disarming the attacker, without giving up any ground yourself: "You may be right."Sometimes we just need to get out of the heat of the moment. When cooler heads can prevail, we tend to be much more civil.Speaking of points of view, I was struck by a scenario in a TV show the other night that hit me right between the eyes.The setting was the reuniting of a brother and sister after a decade in which the brother thought the sister was dead. At first, it was a very happy reunion, and both were so grateful to see each other. Then the conversation turned to demonstrate the perspective of each of the characters. With the license of paraphrasing, I'll attempt to re-create the dialogue."I can't believe what you put Mom and me through, thinking you were dead," said the brother. "We were worried sick when you went missing. After a year, we finally held a memorial service to get some closure.""It's all about you, isn't it?" the sister said. "Well, just look how selfish you've been," the brother replied. "It's really all about you.""Yes, it is all about me," continued the sister. "I'm sorry you and Mom had to go through that. But while you were worrying about what had happened to me, I was digging through trash cans to find something to eat every day -- and selling my body on the streets just to survive."Yikes! Talk about perspective. I found myself siding with the brother at first -- until I learned more about the sister. This really resonated with me because I've been dealing with some family dynamics myself, and it caused me to think.While the brother and mother were going through excruciating emotional pain that seemed totally unwarranted, the sister was experiencing physical, mental and emotional pain. While the back story included issues with addictions and poor choices, it brought home the point that it's hard to judge anyone's degree of suffering.It also made me realize how much we all go through pain in life. And the antidote to pain is often love.Which raises the question, How do we send love, while setting healthy boundaries for our own lives? But that's another column.Linda Arnold, MBA, is a certified wellness instructor and chairwoman/CEO of The Arnold Agency, a marketing communications company specializing in advertising, public relations, government relations and interactive marketing. Reader comments are welcome and may be directed to Linda Arnold, The Arnold Agency, 117 Summers St., Charleston, WV 25301, or emailed to email@example.com.