I find myself becoming a louder and louder advocate of civil discourse, of engagement in conversations where fundamental, absolute disagreement may exist, but so does esteem for the fellow-person. I believe that one can disagree without being disagreeable.
The loss of respect for those with whom we disagree is deeply troubling. In the lead-up to the recent American presidential election, for example, a Facebook post attracted lots of likes for asking people to “please de-friend me” if they intended to vote for the “other” candidate. I see more and more people creating smaller and smaller circles for themselves, cherishing like-mindedness above all, and treating those outside their circle as “crazy,” or “despicable,” or just plain “dumb.” An explanation for these troubling perspectives is captured in number two on my list of four reasons I value disagreement:
- The most effective leaders have modeled it and the greatest philosophers have advocated for it. Consider Christ’s association with prostitutes, Machiavelli’s “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Abraham Lincoln’s “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better,” and Gandhi’s “Civilization is the encouragement of differences.”
- I like being multilingual. If I associate only with people of one faith, one gender, one perspective, or one culture, I become monolingual, and I lose my capacities to think critically, to exercise influence, and to learn. One of my dad’s fellow seminarians, for example, eager to share his faith with a stranger at a gas station, asked, “Are you covered by the Vicarious Atonement?” Having no idea what those words meant, the stranger simply asked, “Sorry, what?” Hoping to clarify, the student said, “You know, have you been washed in the blood?” Horrified, the stranger quickly walked away. By associating only with others in his church, he had lost the capacity to even talk to someone outside of it.
- I find myself. We best see ourselves through the eyes of others. When our Shadow is cast upon those around us, our dark places become visible even as the beauty of our Light pleases Self when reflected.
- Sometimes, I am just plain wrong. And I don’t “get” that until it emerges through conversation with someone else—someone I likely would have avoided if I did not value disagreement—meaning I would move through this short human experience with even cloudier lenses, and a sense of inauthenticity and unhealth.