Agree to Disagree
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
I saw an interesting post on Facebook the other day (yes, I'm over 50 so I do FB). It was a guy holding a sign that read "We can disagree and still be friends". It was a rather benign post, but the comments were what got my attention. One comment simply and succinctly said "No", while others had various caveats but essentially said "No" also. One comment suggested that maybe the wording on the sign should change "friends" with "civil" (We can disagree but still be "civil"). What a novel thought, but I noticed that statement didn't get any comments at all!
This entire scenario made me think how the art of compromise or even civil discussion has all but disappeared from our political discourse. These essential aspects have been replaced by yelling "my way or no way" or "I'm right and you're wrong" at political opponents or anyone else who disagrees with a political position. It seems like my degree in Political Science is totally obsolete today. Short of the fact that there will always be political disagreement, none of the norms of my studies seem to be relevant in the current political environment. Our democracy has always been a work in progress, with the operative word being "progress". We've stumbled through the dark often stubbing our toes, hitting the lampshade, and sometimes just slamming into the wall. But we've still found a way to somehow make our democracy work, and in many cases made it better. We've gone too fast and had to pump the brakes, and we have gone too slow and had to hit the accelerator. We've even kicked the can down the road a few times hoping social norms would change to help solve some issues, but at the end of the day, we've always kept moving forward. I think some have to understand we can't go back to the myth of the "good old days,” but we must have the mindset that the best is yet to come!
But I digress, the gist of this essay is to briefly explore the notion that we can agree to disagree and still be civil! Of course we can, but this takes a conscious effort (work) to try to understand before trying to be understood and listening before talking. We will never agree on everything, heck my wife and I have been knowing each other for over 40 years and married 39 of those, and we still don't agree on many things (she can't get past the fact that I am always right). And of course, we are civil in our disagreements and often simply agree to disagree and move on to what's for dinner. Disagreement or disagreeing is a part of our DNA, the issue is how we handle disagreement. It's human nature and the human condition to see things through our own unique lenses. But it takes effort to try and see the view through someone else's lenses and even more effort to try and understand and more importantly, accept that different view.
I am always amazed (but not surprised) at how people can see the exact same thing and walk away with a totally different perspective. Usually, it's not a right or wrong perspective, it's simply different. I think we all have more in common than not, and the goal must be to find the commonality and work from there. Agree that we see it differently but be willing to put in the work to accept the other persons point of view. Mutual respect can go a long way in dealing with disagreement, but it is a two-way street, and all parties have to play their respective part. Of course, this means give and take, which should not be viewed as wins and losses. We must show genuine kindness when we disagree. But that kindness should never be mistaken for weakness because it is the true sign of strength that shows we can disagree and be civil.