Sorry, but you’ll never get me to “agree to disagree”. That’s a phrase I disagree with.
Agreeing to disagree is not an agreement at all. It’s an impasse. It only gets rolled out when you want to abandon further discussion. It pretends to be cordial, but it’s actually kind of patronizing. What it says is, “You’re just too damn stubborn to see things my way so I’m going to leave you festering in your wrong opinion.”
Speaking of opinions, this is my 52nd column, an entire year of agreeing with myself every single week.
I knew that I had finally become a real opinion columnist when people began to disagree with me in letters to the editor. My favourite began: “With my whole heart I disagree with Marcel Currin.” Best opening sentence ever.
Someone once told me they agree with everything I write. I was horrified. No way, please don’t agree with me all the time. That would be boring and we’d never learn anything.
I actually rather like a good disagreement. It expands my horizons to hear other points of view. If I breeze through life assuming I’m right about everything, I’ll never get to change my mind. I like changing my mind. I like being presented with evidence that nudges me toward a different perspective.
Notice I didn’t say: “I like it when people thump me with insults because they think I’m wrong.”
No one with an abusive or arrogant axe to grind has ever changed my mind.
Respectful, artful disagreement is invigorating. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to attack the person instead of exploring the issue.
Real life is far more nuanced than any blunt label we can find to fling around. But outrage is so delicious, isn’t it. “They’re all morons!” we yell about people we’ve never met, just because we think they are employed in the wrong building.
Let’s be thoughtful about how we disagree in public. Some pronouncements are only a stick and a stone’s throw away from the name calling that was so damaging to Charlotte Dawson. It’s the same mean spirit that supposes your opinion to be more valuable than someone else’s feelings.
I was shown a Facebook comment written by a person I haven’t met who called me a “condescending little prat”. Now, that’s kind of unfair. I mean, it’s true that I was little at school but I’ve grown a lot taller since then.
Lobbing raspberries from the cheap seats is no way to advance a discussion. I’m more likely to listen to you if you are respectful in your argument.
Healthy disagreement requires a large dose of humility. Let’s not pretend we always know best. Over the course of my life I’ve asked myself some tough questions and found myself butchering a few of my own sacred cows. That either means I was wrong back then, or else I am wrong now. We can’t all be right all of the time.
When things get heated, it’s hard to keep yourself open to the possibility that the other team might have a tiny point here or there.
Recognising this, there must be a way that disagreements can be conducted with mutual respect.
So I am in pursuit of an agreeable form of disagreement. Hmm, that sounds a lot like agreeing to disagree. Maybe I was wrong about that phrase. Looks like I might have to change my mind again.
First published in Bay of Plenty Times 28 February 2014. Reproduced with permission.