Do You Agree or Disagree?
Sometimes it’s good to simply agree to disagree. Sometimes, however, we can agree to disagree too soon, and miss understanding one another.
If you think about it, to agree or disagree is a rather simple binary construction. Fully approve the idea as expressed or fully reject it, those are the given options.
Rationale may be offered up to gain support. Objections may be squashed with sweet sounding arguments. Agreement is either won or lost. But there is usually something deeper going on.
This deeper stuff is what intrigues me. So I’ll often skip over that initial black-and-white option to wonder how the idea came to be of value to the speaker. Then I may consider how this deeper understanding could be of value for us all.
Agree to see the same
Instead of agreeing with an idea, I want our perspectives to be in agreement. I want to see it from their point of view. How did they come to think of this as true? How does my experiences keep me from seeing it their way? And what if (gulp) I’m wrong?
By keeping open to seeing it from their perspective, I let down my guard. With my openness I intend to invite the same. Make it easier for us both to admit to a possibility of error. Instead of defending my perspective, I engender them to encounter mine from the sanctity of their own.
Rather than affirm an idea, I aim to first affirm the idea holder. Affirmation of my beliefs feel good, but affirmation of me as an exploratory believer is far better. That is the value I offer to others, whether I agree with their expressed views or not.
Seeing the need
When expressing their view, I am trying to hear the underlying need. “We must stop hating on all cops because of a few bad apples” sounds more like “I don’t feel secure in my own neighborhood without trusting there are plenty of good cops I can count on to keep me safe.”
How I’d respond to my need for security may be sharply different from theirs. But that is not a place for me to begin. Affirming their need for security is a better place for me to start than affirming how they or anyone else would address that need.
“How else are we going to stay safe?” I may ask in shared affirmation. In this way I attempt to spur the discussion toward the more widely agreeable need for safety. Whatever may be the topic at hand, I aim to get beneath the surface discussions of public policies or social norms to answer that often unspoken need: Can we trust each other? Am I trustworthy?
Or not seeing the need
With increased modernization comes a normalization of impersonal barriers. We generally don’t know our neighbors as well as our grandparents did, or as deeply as their grandparents in their time. How many of your friends and family know your deepest secrets?
We’ve become accustomed to normative alienation. We find ourselves in what sociology calls a secondary society. In a primary society, such as tribal cultures, members know each other personally. Due to specialization of labor and sheer numbers, we spend the bulk of our time with virtual strangers.
Because we still need one another’s general cooperation, modern secondary society provides what sociology calls rational-legal authority. Instead of personally knowing one another’s individual needs, we rely on reason and law to ensure our broadest needs are met. Individual needs are left to those pockets of dwindling privacy.
Needing each other
Seeking agreement may prove to be more about finding others to trust in an hour of need. So what, for example, if you don’t agree with my suspicion that tough-on-crime politics is coded racism. What understandably matters more to you is if I’ll be there when you need me the most.
If my expressed view seems to indicate a lack of reliability to you in certain situations, then you understandably should invest your trust elsewhere. “Seems to indicate” is key here. Too often we dismiss one another’s full value when we miss one another’s full views.
Each of us in our own way seek out who we can and cannot trust. When the risks are high, this can be a binary worth defending. Sometimes we need each other to first demonstrate some reliability. Sometimes we need to agree to better understand why we continue to disagree. Or the risks could remain high as we all avoid dealing with the tension.
Agree to agree
The agreement-disagreement binary could simply be a starting point for delving deeper into our diverse views. We each have a different perspective on different needs at different places in our separate lives. And that’s okay.
As social creatures we naturally long for some mutual understanding. We easily find ourselves choking of thirst in the middle of an ocean, at least when we are quick to agree to disagree. What if we’re too quick out of defensiveness?
We can agree not to let our defensiveness get in the way of our agreeing to better understand where each is coming from. We can agree to let each other finish their sentences, complete their thoughts, and see in each other’s eyes how well we each feel understood.
Then we can agree life is not so much about agreement of ideas. We can agree we are each worth far more than the sum of our ideas. Or not.
Feel free to disagree. But I will still expect you to understand.