4 Reasons I Value Disagreement

November 9, 2012
By

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

2 Responses to 4 Reasons I Value Disagreement

  1. November 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Nathaniel;
    I think that you hit the nail on the head: we can disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable. This took me years (and I am still working on it) to really grasp-but it wasn’t until I began to really observe other people’s behavior did I begin to truly embrace the concept of sharing my opinion without having to impress it on someone or be reactive.
    It’s tough to do sometimes when you really feel strongly about something but it is our responsibility as mature human beings to take this seriously and learn the power of true discourse.
    I think it comes down to a couple of emotions that surge within us that we don’t want or know to control. One being, threatened. Not of someone else’s opinion per say, but of theirs overpowering ours. Maybe some of us feel that the other is trying to take away our validity and it blows up the reaction to fight back. Another emotion I think is anger-often certain topics touch a nerve and maybe we haven’t resolved something. We may be projecting our feelings onto other people. Maybe it is blame-maybe we feel something is wrong with the world and the person with the other opinion is the cause. Subsequently, they become the “face” of our frustration, disappointment and resentment because they begin to represent what is all wrong that causes us to feel this way. Maybe we just truly think we are right and the person on the other side is an idiot. A sort of visceral, animalistic response. Who knows? What I know is that I was guilty-not quite like the irresponsible and thoughtless comments we have been exposed to as of late via social media, but I have been someone who loved a good arguement-even if I was the only one in the heat. That gradually turned into an occasional struggle with being able to say what I want to say with enough finesse that I didn’t offend anyone (ever notice how damn sensitive these people are???) and now I thankfully find myself in a place of assertive speaking of my mind, but prefer to offer it only as my musings and only when I feel it is worth the effort. Taking the high road and resisting the urge to be right, retort, or preach is the only way to be. Besides, who can have discourse with anyone in this state? There is no room for it. Because of this evolution, I have not had to say goodbye to people I truly love simply because we disagree-I can find the beautiful commonalities instead and allow it to deepen my fondness for people-and that is what really matters.

  2. Tom Slack
    November 16, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you, I am so blessed by this I’ve read this several times and come to a conclusion that I have a lot of room for growth even at sixty six years.
    Being argumentative; well, I’ve always thought of it as a privilege. Like a storm on the inside yet to timid or polite on the face. So you’ve inspired me to search deeply for resolution and develop a sense of inner peace leading to a deeper quality of life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

Download now our Android App


Direct Download
Just take a photo of the QR code by using an app like Barcode Scanner or visit this website with your smartphone and click on the "Direct Download" link.
Powered By WP App Maker