Agree to Disagree when Facing Proselytism

Advice from the Buddha – Five Keys to Right Speech

Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five?

It is spoken at the right time.
It is spoken in truth.
It is spoken affectionately.
It is spoken beneficially.
It is spoken with a mind of good-will.

A statement endowed with these five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken. It is blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people.

~ Vaca Sutta: A Statement (AN 5.198)

What does it mean to agree to disagree?

  • We are open to listening to others’ views because we are clear of our own beliefs.
  • We respect others’ opinions while standing firm with our own values and principles.
  • We can engage others in dialogue and exchange perspectives without insisting that others accept our point of view.

If others try to influence us to adopt their religion, it is perfectly fine to stand our ground and turn them down.

Why should we agree to disagree?

Being assertive in our inter-personal relationships and interactions is taking the moderate path between being passive and aggressive. When we are assertive with our views, we should communicate them in a clear, positive and firm way to others.

We should not be so passive with upholding our views that we quietly and apathetically allow others to impose their beliefs on us.

We should also not be so aggressive with standing up for our views that we impose them on others or react angrily to those who have a different perspective.

How should we agree to disagree?

Say “No” with Compassion:

  1. Listen to the other person with respect and an open heart.
  2. Understand that he thinks he is trying to benefit us through his behaviour, even if we may not feel this is the case.
  3. Clearly state our stand, e.g. simply say, “I am a Buddhist.”
  4. If the occasion is not appropriate (e.g. stopped by a stranger on the street), there is no need to explain or clarify our religion in return. There is also no need for any heated exchanges. Simply end the conversation.
  5. Politely walk away if the proselytiser continues to impose or becomes too unfriendly.

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