June 8, 2017

8 06 2017

She kept messaging me. Each time with a different version of what she had already said. Each time I politely repeated some version of, “I’m afraid I can’t agree. That’s not how I see it.” Finally I had to stop responding.

A friend of mine had the same experience, trying to end a futile argument with, “Let’s just agree to disagree.” But the person just kept at it. My friend and I agreed; the behavior was obnoxious.

In similar situations when I disagreed with someone, I’ve been accused of not listening. I’ve been accused of refusing to see the truth. I’ve been accused of being blind to the facts.  It makes me want to yell, “Just because I’m not persuaded by your arguments, it does not mean I am not listening. I hear you perfectly well. I disagree. I am going to continue to disagree no matter how you rephrase and repeat. Please, just stop!”

And yet, I have to admit, I’ve been in situations where my point seems so clear and inarguable that I can’t understand why the other person doesn’t see it. What I am trying to convince them of is obvious. Why don’t they listen to me? Why don’t they get it? I get frustrated. I get upset. I keep hammering at them.

Just like the person who didn’t want to “agree to disagree.”

Ideally, we all realize there are arguments we are just not going to win. When we have discussed something with another person long enough to get the clear picture that there is no way we are going to convince each other, we politely end the discussion. Sensible intelligent people take the hint when they are told, “I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree.” It’s a graceful way out of a deadlock. It’s civilized society’s way of avoiding coming to blows.

But if one of the people involved is strongly motivated, is passionate about their point of view, is absolutely convinced they are right and feels it is urgently important that they convince the other person because of what’s at stake, how likely are they to give up? If I am sure that your ideas and actions are going to do terrible harm to the community, and I must stop you at all cost, I am not likely to “agree to disagree.” I will keep arguing right up to the bitter end to prevent this terrible evil you are determined to bring about. You, of course, think that what you are doing is sensible and necessary. You aren’t going to listen to my hysterical warnings, no matter what I say.

Which one of us is objectively in the right? It depends on a thousand other things.

It makes me want to give up on the whole messy business of public discourse.  A lot of people feel the same, refusing to discuss “politics”.  And yet, our whole system of government is based on citizen participation.  And we can’t develop informed opinions unless we talk to each other, get the benefit of other perspectives, work out compromises.  So unless we are going to withdraw into the conflict-free cocoon of our echo-chambers, we have to put up with the cacophony, annoying as it may be.

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One response

8 06 2017
Mary Jolles

I think we have to keep listening for that opportunity to find common ground. Sometimes a person I disagree with has jumped to a solution to a problem before thinking through all its ramifications. I may disagree with the solution, yet agree that there is a problem. That’s where we have to start. It may mean backing way up to the beginning and then creeping forward slowly towards a solution that can work for both sides, but it’s the only way, or the angry voices just get louder and louder.

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