Disagreement *Should* Not Presume Disdain

I consider myself to be a pretty calm individual.  It takes a lot to get me angry to the point of getting into a fight with another individual.  In fact, I can probably count on my hands the number of knock-down-drag-out fights I’ve had in my life.  However, that doesn’t mean I have no opinions, or that my opinions shift to match whoever’s opinions are being spoken.  No.  I have opinions, stances, and a belief system of what [I understand] is right and wrong.  I try not to shout it from the rooftops, expecting everyone to arrest their own thoughts so that they might hear mine, but I do have them.  I disagree with folks, more often than my fight-record would indicate.

But my disagreement doesn’t presume disdain toward the other party.  Just because we don’t understand a topic in the same way, or have drawn different conclusions, doesn’t necessitate that the other is stupid.  It shouldn’t necessitate to the other person that I am stupid.  (This, of course, assumes that both opinions are backed by something other than “because I said so.”)  It merely is an indication that our thought patterns, belief systems, or interpretations of a thing are different.  It does not require that we immediately hate one another, or hold each other at arm’s-length after this realization.  In fact, in my mind, your relationship with that person becomes more valuable: differing opinions or understandings to your own can create an opportunity for all sorts of conversation!  Aristotle purportedly said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”  After a little digging, maybe he didn’t say exactly that…but for my purposes, this serves.  The premise is still fine: discussion is possible without hatred or judgement, without a conclusion of one mind being altered forever.  Disagreement is possible without disdain.

How?  Why is it so polarizing to make your opinions known?  Make a comment on Facebook, only to be quickly defriended by someone who disagrees with you?  I’ve done it, I’ve also probably been defriended because if this, too.  There are a bunch of trite quotes I could include about what opinions are like, but you know them, and they are overused…so, consider them said.  However, some of my favorite conversations with people have arisen from fundamental disagreement on how a thing works.  What makes these conversations different than the inflammatory “conversations” that riddle social media today?

For starters, respect is present on both sides.  Long ago, I made a decision to (try to) respect everyone with whom I came in contact.  They are people like I am a person, their lives aren’t any less important than mine.  I believe this includes everyone: those who are my superiors, those who are my peers, those who I disagree with, and those I don’t understand.  By the same token, I would hope I conduct myself in a manner worthy of respect from others.

At any rate, respect is essential to having a discussion without a blow-up.  So is patience.  If you are too busy waiting to shoot someone down that you don’t actually take the time to listen to the words coming out of their mouth…how do you expect them to give any more weight to your words than you do to theirs?  Makes sense to me.  Be patient, let them finish their sentence (or paragraph) before you jump in with a rebuttal.  Take a second to think about what they say after they say it, before thoughtfully responding.  To me, this comes easily.  I thank my parents for that: they raised me to always listen to what they were saying, or what my little brother was saying, before responding.  It’s annoying when you’re six, as everything you have to say is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER, but that lesson stuck…a lesson for which I am exceedingly grateful, now.

And, the greatest of all: love.  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.  

If I walk into a conversation hating the person…what will I gain?  Proud indignation when they do not to agree with me?  Alienation of a person with differing thought?  Loss of that person’s respect?  None of these things are things I desire, or aim for…ever.  Nothing positive is accomplished with these outcomes: not in my mind, anyway.  I’m not saying that you should automatically assume the other person is right, and I’m not saying you always assume that you’re right: I’m simply offering the possibility that two individuals with differing opinions can walk away from a discussion on controversial topics still liking one another.

So what, Annaliese, why the self-help blog?

It did turn out that way, didn’t it?  I could say that I didn’t mean it to, but I’m not surprised.  These are things I’ve found to be useful when talking with people, I figured it couldn’t hurt to share.

But what got me thinking about it?

The current sociopolitical climate is tricky to weather (pun intended…haw haw).  Tides are shifting from recent historical times: inclusion and acceptance are proclaimed much more fully here than they have been in the past.  Inclusion is awesome!  Acknowledgement of different types of people is cool!  There’s a great line in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves about that: “Allah loves wondrous variety.”  People are different, period, end of story.  They look different, sound different, act different, and think different.

—I don’t want to get into particular topics here, as I recognize that I have conservative, white, Christian privileges, and I’m not sure how much I want to bet on successfully maneuvering around them: failing success, I run the risk of losing some audience for this point.  (Sidenote: hopefully you’d respect/recognize my intent, regardless of success or failure in that…but that’s an entire tome of topics, not for now.)—

My concern has, and always been, that in an attempt to include something previously excluded, that something previously included gets ostracized.  Please let me be clear here: this doesn’t always happen, nor will it always continue to (sometimes) happen.  I have seen cases come out both ways, regarding a number of topics.  That’s right, I read inflammatory comment sections and wall post threads: I want to know what makes people tick…or get ticked off.  What is it that a person finds so intolerable that he cannot abide to be facebook friends with someone who’s opinions differ?  What is it that she finds so angering that she cannot follow someone’s posts, or that he chooses to lecture an unknown individual on the internet?  Personally, it’s hard for me to find something that elicits that reaction.  Probably because I hate to hate people.  It’s hard, takes a lot of work, and it’s draining.  Life is hard enough when you are trying to love everyone…I can’t imagine life trying to hate some people and love other people.  It’s confusing, and it’s scary: do they hate me?  What about this person?  Is he going to hate me if I share my opinion?  Is she going to stop coming to my office if I speak my mind?

I can’t hate.  I won’t.  It’s not worth it.  Besides, I very strongly agree with this:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love dos not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us…  
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.  We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  

Lays it out pretty simply (well, minus the repetitive words):  love each other.

It doesn’t say: “love people who look like you,” or “love people who sound like you,” or “love people who vote for the same presidential candidate as you,” or “love people who only like their grits the same way you do,” or “love people who speak the same dialect as you,” or “love people who 100% always agree with your opinions.”

It says “love one another.”

Please, let me love you.  I’m not asking you to love me back.  I’m just asking that you let me love you for who you are, because that is who I am.  And I’m not changing that because you think I’m crazy.


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