Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friendly Disagreement?

"Is it just me or can no one agree on anything anymore?"

A friend of mine posted this as his status on Facebook. I was about to write in one thought, when a second occurred to me. As I typed in a second, I thought of a third; at which point I realized I had a blog topic.  I would like to invert the question: Is it possible to maintain a friendly disagreement?

I think it is in our nature to disagree. Two people watch the same movie, or listen to the same song, or view the same art... and walk away with different opinions. One was moved, the other not. One liked, one disliked. We are beings that interpret. As such, we will interpret things differently.

I believe some of these predilections are hard wired. We are born with certain leanings. Others are the result of our life's experience and circumstance. The net result is that two people can look at the same thing, but see two different items.

So back to the question. I think disagreement is not something we can expunge from the human condition. I think the challenge to humanity is to learn to disagree amicably.

The following are items I see, from my experience, that have to be overcome before one can have a friendly disagreement:

  • Digital/Analog Thinking - I have written on this before, but in short, this is when one person sees only in two poles, and the other sees varying gradients between the two poles. For example, I often get into disagreeable discussions over the Bible being inerrant (from the mouth of God with no errors). I do not believe it is, but people who do tend to see it two ways: Either it is inerrant or it is completely useless. Since I do not see it as inerrant, they start to address me as though I believe the bible to be completely useless. Usually, no amount of explaining on my end can make them see my position any differently.
  • Concrete Assumptions - This is where someone has an unbendable position, almost a faith, in a certain premise. For example, in an economics discussion, a person may believe a certain economic system to be the best, unquestioningly. Therefore when discussing problems within the economy, the individual will never question aspects of the system itself... the problems must always reside somewhere else, because the individual has predetermined the rightness of the system. This person has put a barrier around certain items and has made them unquestionable.
  • Narrow Experience - In this case, a person simply relegates all truth to their personal experience. It is easy to believe that all people of another faith are corrupt or inept, if one doesn't have personal experience with someone of that faith. It easy to pass judgments on parents... then you become one... and all of your preconceived notions go out the window.
  • Projecting Motive - This happens most often in online discussions. People project emotions and motives on to the other party. The one I see most often is that people project anger onto anyone who disagrees with them. If someone doesn't see things the way I do, they must be an unhappy soul.
  • Knowledge Insecurity - This is similar to concrete assumptions. The individual has absolute belief in the rightness of their position... but has very little knowledge or experience to back it up. The cliche' arguments that worked so well in their personal circles suddenly don't translate as easily in the general public. Rather than be willing to be instructed into a wider knowledge, the person becomes defensive.

People are going to disagree. Can we do so in a manner of respect? I have many friends who I staunchly disagree with on many issues, yet we still remain friends and can have great discussions over our disagreements. I have had other friendships end, or we simply can't talk about certain issues (is that really a friendship?) because of disagreement.

The previous five items are, from my experience, at the root of unfriendly disagreements. Do you have others you would add to the list?


SkinnyD (Daniel Mower) said...

I think you covered some good ground with that. Generally I agree with your analysis. Probably the two areas that I find myself think about most are politics and religion - and in these areas I don't resent disagreement, I resent disagreement where the disagreement stems over the five elements you listed, if that makes sense. For example, I have a problem when people attack capitalism because they see all business owners as selfish pigs. I do not have a problem if they attack capitalism because they see it as vulnerable to abuse and corruption, because it is. I happen to believe in capitalism as a crucial part of the American dream (to a point) but that doesn't mean I can't understand and even agree with people who find the inherent problems with it and want to try and fix it. Same with religion. But even as I say that, there are certain core beliefs that I have that when I perceive them as being threatened, I automatically defend without pausing to understand the other person's motives.

Bob said...

Great! We CAN, and SHOULD, as the old saying goes, DISAGREE WITHOUT BEING DISAGREEABLE!

Don said...

Back to part of your initial statement, it stopped me in my reading:

"I believe some of these predilections are hard wired. We are born with certain leanings".

This is fascinating. Can you give me an example? I never thought of this possibility.

Since, beginning this journey some 6+ years ago, I try, diligently, to hold my beliefs lightly. I would like to think that if someone shows me a different way, I would objectively assess it and change my own thinking if necessary... I would like to think that.... My friends could better assess the reality of this better than me.

Andrew said...

SkinnyD - I think I would add self-reflection as a necessary component to maintain a friendly disagreement. Your last statement: "stepping back" from yourself and observing your words as an outsider is an amazing trait that I notice that all folks who can maintain friendly disagreement seem to share. My question is whether that is an innate ability, or is it learned (or maybe some of both).

I also appreciate your view of capitalism... I often state that I am not against it, but rather I am suspicious of it (as I am of all economic systems). However, to many conservatives, those are fighting words. Before I even get to elaborate on the point I am assaulted with ad-hominem attacks. I appreciate when I can speak with someone who is generally positive on the system, but can discuss it in an objective manner.

Bob - Sorry, I had to move your comment over here, blogger double posted this article for some reason.

I think you are a perfect example of someone who can maintain friendly disagreements. Though you and I come from differing political perspectives, I think our dialog has always been respectful. I appreciate your view.

Don - My observation is purely anecdotal, but I suspect it is true. I have just seen so many kids who came from the same family, who are completely different from their youngest ages. Children seem to be imprinted with personality traits. These seem to be tweaked and modified, but when I look at my son and daughter, I still see traits in their personalities that I recognized when they were infants.

Our looking at myself, how much of my personality do I get to take credit for? The women I find most attractive are brown hair and brown eyed. I prefer intellectual pursuits to physical ones. I am completely NON-picky in my eating. Why is that? I have an easy going personality, whereas my son is pretty specific about things. Where does that come from? I just believe some of it is in our programming.

I am sure there is an argument to say it is all environment... but I am suspicious of that. :)

Redlefty said...

Very good list!

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