How To Overcome The Disagreeableness of Disagreeing
The phrase “we can disagree without being disagreeable” is one that is constantly bandied about in the public sphere. The cliche assumes, however, that disagreement itself is free of inherent tension and conflict. Which is just not the case. Disagreeing in matters of politics, religion, and other topics fills most people with a sense of dread—which often leads to some pretty bizarre consequences.
Perhaps the most well-known consequence of such disagreeableness is the current movement on college campuses to police speech. It is said by those who are in support of it that such censorship is necessary to ensure that women and ethnic minorities—who have been historically discriminated against—feel safe and part of the community in which they must live and learn. This reasoning, however, is a mere veneer for what is really going on.
If there is one place where debate and argument belong, it is the college campus. But in a society that prefers to harbor the illusion that most people are in agreement about most things, it is easier to label dissenters from a particular view as intolerant and bigoted. Shutting down debate before it gets started allows people who hate disagreement to avoid it without effort. And while it may be tempting to ridicule people who prefer silence or conformity to argument and contradiction their concerns do have some legitimacy.
Disagreeing with people with whom you live or work is difficult. Whether it is a college campus, social media, the workplace, or the family table, few people relish the prospect of making an adversary of the individuals they know. However, it is hard to live authentically as a man whilst avoiding all discussion or mention of things you care deeply about.
Here are few tips on how you can overcome the disagreeableness of disagreeing.
The entire world has been in an uproar over the past couple of days over the comments made by GOP front-runner Donald Trump. Whatever your position on what he said, before the end of this political season you should expect to see plenty more statements made by other politicians that cause outrage and offense. Your first instinct will be to join the chorus of condemnation and post strings of vituperative on your Facebook page. This may get you some likes, but it may also draw criticism from those who support the person you oppose. You may also see posts on your feed that support what is said. Getting into tit-for-tat partisan name-calling can be exhausting, and it can make you want to avoid the topic all together.
The best way to handle these situations is to discern the implications of what is said and gather the facts relevant to it. You will then be in a position to make an objection that is more thoughtful and nuanced—which is an alternative to repeating the same old self-righteous tripe as everyone else. Going after the logical and factual basis of a statement that you disagree with has a calming effect. For it allows you to speak from the head rather than from the heart.
Another way of overcoming the disagreeableness of disagreeing is to avoid confusing ideas with people. This conflation is a kind of epidemic in modern discourse. People seem unable or unwilling to distinguish an opinion from a person. It is possible for you to hate an idea without hating the individual who holds it. This problem is particularly acute when it comes to religion. The term “Islamophobe” is attached to anyone who dares criticize the tenets of the Islamic faith—including ex-Muslims and liberal Muslims. But it is absurd to believe that religion, as a system of ideas, is beyond criticism. If that were the case, then entire fields of study—e.g. theology and the philosophy of religion—would have to be eliminated.
The problem extends to other realms of life as well. If you have certain ideas on dating or how to raise your family, you may find yourself denounced as the most monstrous villain that ever lived. You should not make this mistake when handling the beliefs of others. True tolerance is recognizing the fact that people will think differently from you. It is perfectly fine to be offended by what someone else believes without being offended by the individual as a person.
If you are a man with a strong mind and a good heart, then you need not worry about disagreeing with others. One of the best ways to ease your nerves is to cultivate conversation as a pleasure. The ability to think, to formulate a position, and to develop the rhetorical skills to defend it can be quite rewarding. Good conversation is mental exercise that is pursued informally in a social setting. Learn to enjoy such moments. If you care deeply about the issues of the day, there is no reason to run away from them. State your opinions and sift through those held by others. This is the foundation of social intercourse at its best.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.