The Art of Respectful Disagreement Takes Practice

Ego is a volatile and fragile human dynamic. 

We’re all vulnerable to its dynamics. 

Ego is a survival tool.  It keeps us safe and alive.    

Ego can be your worst enemy.  It can get you maimed or killed. 

Ego also helps you to do better—to excel. 

Ego is what has inspired great things throughout history.

What happens when ego arrives in the middle of a heated discussion?  When two or more parties fail to respectfully disagree?  Arguments become heated when ego takes over and we can’t stand someone not agreeing with us. 

What about that?

What are we afraid of?

A healthy way to live your life is to be okay with a differing opinion.  Differing opinions—viewpoints—are what make the world go around and that’s okay.  This means different cultures and traditions.  Different beliefs.  Varying opinions.  Conservative versus Liberal.  Left versus Right.  Western versus Eastern culture.  Ginger versus Mary Ann.    Peanut butter and chocolate versus Chocolate and Peanut Butter.  Right Twix versus Left Twix.  Stock versus Modified cars and trucks. 

So many debates—so little time.

Conservatism and liberalism work well together if you experience a healthy balance of power where both political parties find common ground and a level of compromise.  One counterbalances the other though some will grind their teeth because it doesn’t go exactly the way they’d planned.  It is when the balance of power becomes decidedly tipped to either side that it becomes very unpleasant.  We’ve become so polarized by political events in recent years that we’ve forgotten how to be civil to one another—to disagree and be civil about it. 

Why must we always agree?

When did it become unfashionable to disagree?

Maybe, it always was—and no one ever talked about it.

In my humble opinion—the polarization of society began with the changing political environment in the first decade of the new millennium.  The sharp divide began with hanging chads and the bitter battle over who won the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.  Weeks later, Bush was the apparent victor.  Bush faced baptism by fire with the horrifying events of September 11th.  It looked like we were on track for real unity, with a brief display of togetherness exhibited by Congress and the masses when we perceived we were under threat in the wake of 9/11/01.

That didn’t last long…

We swiftly lost our way and what we are about – again…

The election of 2008 polarized us, with the division between left and right becoming wider with time and with efforts to unseat the winner.  There were Americans who didn’t care for the changing political landscape.  Then—when nearly everyone was so sure the left would retain power and we were about to elect the first woman president of the United States, Election Night results made monkeys out of the pollsters and the news media.  Americans, so desperate for an answer and feeling like they actually mattered in Washington, threw Pennsylvania Avenue a curve ball – and looked to a very outspoken New Yorker who was going to shake up Washington. 

He did…

Americans had had enough of the status quo from both sides of the aisle.

Career politicians had forgotten them.

Here we are again in a volatile election year promising to be the most polarized ever. Both parties see this election as a fight for the country and the kind of life each wants.  What has been long lost over time is compromise—the ability to see another person’s point of view in any capacity. 

Both sides are unwilling to listen.

I’ve always believed I can learn something useful from someone with whom I disagree.  It’s so easy if you try.  You should go at a discussion with an open mind.  When both parties in a discussion keep open minds, and without conflict, the discussion becomes as smooth as sour cream mashed potatoes. 

For one thing, you each must keep a sense of humor—the ability to laugh with each other and, more importantly, the ability to laugh at yourselves.  A good belly laugh softens any tension amid disagreement. The discussion becomes easier when you’re able to laugh.

Place your ego carefully on the shelf. 

I have close friends—brothers in arms—with whom I disagree politically.  Yet—we volley our thoughts back and forth, digest what we’ve heard each other say, and wind up the discussion in a spirit of mutual respect even when we don’t agree.  We don’t have to agree on everything, and that’s okay.  I’ve learned the dangers of volatile disagreement through the years, and lost friends I’ve known for the better part of a lifetime.  These were friends who will never speak to me again.  They were unable to accept a differing opinion and chose to end our friendship.  It was easier to walk away than it was to try to comprehend a differing opinion. 

Some just can’t.

I have a friend whose son is gay.  When he learned she voted for Donald Trump, he never spoke to her again.  I feel great empathy for both of them because, innocently, she told her son who she voted for. Her son threw away the love of his mother.  She wasn’t prepared for his response and will forever be heartbroken.  Her attempts to reach out to him have been unsuccessful. 

Today’s polarized environment can be compared to the Civil War where families battled against one another.  It was brother against brother, family against family in the bloodiest war in American history.  Scars and sensitivity remain 155 years later. In light of recent events across the country where memorials symbolic of the Confederacy have been removed, the scars run deep and the pain from so long ago unforgivable.    

I tend to be a moderate—with no particular bond with either party.  However, I try to listen to each party and understand its beliefs.  I know what I like about each party—and what I don’t.  I am liberal about some things and conservative about others.  I’ve had one friend who feels if you are a centrist, moderate, or a progressive, you don’t have an opinion.  It’s either right or left, with the middle being no man’s land.  I am afraid I don’t agree.  Being a centrist, moderate, or progressive means keep your mind open to different ideas and opinions—willing to hear each side out while forming an opinion of your own without being too vocal about it. 

Being in a free society has never been easy or simple.  Freedom is a great thing.  Our tolerance with each other is where it gets tricky.  To borrow a quote from the 1995 movie, “The American President,” and Andrew Sheperd’s (actor Michael Douglas) immortal words, “America isn’t easy…you gotta want it bad…”  He goes on to address the challenges of differing opinions and how—as much as you’d like to squelch an opposing opinion, the opponent has the same rights you do and are free to speak.

Peaceful disagreement and mutual respect are goals each of us should be searching for in our relationships.  I value friendship more than I do anyone agreeing with me.  Good solid everlasting friendships that last despite differing opinions are hard to find.  Best advice is to find the value in a differing opinion, shake hands, and play another round.

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