I Disagree. And that’s ok…

A paraphrased conversation from a spring meeting of the Rider Writer’s Group:

A: (reading from her essay) “If you believe (this), you’re wrong…”

(She continued until she had read the entire essay. Several comments were then made in response to the essay)

Me: I admire how you point-blank called the reader out – “You’re wrong!” I almost never say anything that direct, even if I feel really strongly about it.

P: Why not?!

Me: I’m not sure. I don’t want to create bad feelings or alienate people. But I also don’t want to get into a verbal war over comments on my blog. (I then gave an example of an unpublished piece that takes a stand on a polarizing topic.)

M: Well, I think you should go for it. You can always turn comments off if it gets too bad.

P: Yeah! Just go for it!

A: Besides, it’s okay for people to disagree.

Wait! What?! It’s okay for people to disagree? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me this?

Now, I’m not talking about conversational debate. I grew up surrounded by and participating in family debates (mostly over morning coffee) about everything from the relative merits of a particular restaurant, to politics and educational policy, to “what is art?” While some of these topics may have been things that we cared about, they weren’t actually very personal. In this kind of debate, my faith, energy, and soul aren’t really invested. Instead, the verbosity is more about having a wide-ranging conversation, taking a position for the fun of having to defend it or capitulate to a better-articulated argument.

Real, substantive, disagreement is much more difficult to navigate. First, for many of us, disagreement equals conflict and, therefore, must be avoided at all costs. More than that, though, we avoid deep disagreement because it makes us feel vulnerable. When I clearly state what I believe from the core of who I am, I risk rejection. Sometimes, in the heat of argument, that rejection feels like annihilation.

The paradox inherent in this dilemma is clearly stated by Parker Palmer:

“Instead of telling our valuable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas, and beliefs rather than about our lives. Academic culture blesses this practice by insisting that the more abstract our speech, the more likely we are to touch the universal truths that unite us. But what happens is exactly the reverse: as our discourse becomes more abstract, the less connected we feel. There is less sense of community among intellectuals than in the most ‘primitive’ society of storytellers.” Parker Palmer

In today’s world, as we navigate the major issues of our time: climate change, economic disparity, discrimination and inequality, US women’s domination of world soccer (ok, just checking that you’re paying attention) it is more vital than ever that we practice the moral courage of speaking truth. This doesn’t only mean sharing divergent opinions, it means learning to confront our own fear of vulnerability to say what is in our hearts – regardless of whether others will agree. We can’t let fear of conflict prevent us from talking about the very real decisions with which we are faced as a community.

And speaking of community: until we find a way to include disparate voices in one conversation, we will never create true community. Instead, we will continue to create closed circles of like-minded individuals who agree with each other in ever louder voices in an attempt to drown-out the voices of the closed-circle groups living near us.

I could go on haranguing on this topic in an abstract way, but then I’m guilty of the very thing I’m arguing against. So how am I practicing the moral courage of truth in my own life? Well, in some ways I’m not. For example, I haven’t published that blog piece on a polarizing topic I spoke of with my writer’s group. In other ways, I’m working on it. First, I’m listening to myself speak – noting when I take refuge in abstractions or, worse, untruths. This is a very humbling thing to do, as I discover just how often I slide over or glide around inconvenient or uncomfortable truths. Second, I’m evaluating situations and people in which and with whom it is less daunting to speak my truth. As in so many things that take courage in life, starting with lesser risks builds strength for greater risk-taking. Third, I’m evaluating those areas that need my voice and practicing speaking my truth there, even if I know others will disagree. Even if I know that speaking will reveal fundamentally divergent views between myself and people I love or respect. Because my friend and fellow writer A. is correct: it’s ok for people to disagree.

Not only is it ok, it is actually possible to continue to love and respect those with whom we disagree. In fact, one could argue that true love and respect are only possible between those who have learned to speak divergent truths AND continue in relationship with one another. When one of my loved ones came out as lesbian to a family member, she indicated her fear that it might harm the relationship. The reply she received was, “Maybe now we can really have a relationship.” Because truth is essential to creating “right relationship”, whether between individuals or within communities. In fact, real community only thrives in environments that learn to hold a diversity of views without erupting into discord and interpersonal violence. I know no other way to create this than one person, one courageous truth, one relationship at a time.


One thought on “I Disagree. And that’s ok…

  1. Well stated as always Jen. Your post is also well timed. At least in my little part of the universe it is. I’ve been thinking A LOT about some of the things you mentioned (and some things you didn’t list) as major issues and trying to navigate various viewpoints and frankly all I see and hear are a lot of angry, condescending takes and if your opinion/idea/belief doesn’t mesh with theirs, then well, you’re an f’n idiot. You’re characterization of “closed circles of like minded individuals” is SO spot on and something I’ve also been noticing for a long time. While I think there is something natural & comforting about congregating with those who are like yourself, you can’t stretch and grow if you never venture outside of said circle, even if you return to your original circle. In a recent post you mentioned a particular exercise you’d lead in RA training (which while I went through 3 of them I don’t recall it) where you mentioned about building community and how often the RAs would demonstrate community in a closed circle before being redirected. I think that’s particularly telling given the nature of that group of students (admittedly I have a rather small sample size to draw upon) was rather open and accepting of people different than them and they were “closed circle people”. I believe you advocated for a spiral model of community, which I don’t personally care for as it only brings visions of tornados, whirlpools, and the phrase “downward spiral”. I prefer the unfinished circle that always allows room for one more to join. It’s not a static size to accommodate as many who wish to come in/leave and is egalitarian in orientation. No matter which model we may embrace as our ideal, or reality is not going to be fully reflective of it because there will always be others who won’t want to participate. We fortunately/unfortunately are all in this together and we need to learn to hold a civil level of discourse that does allow for “disparate voices” to be heard and those who hold them to be loved or at least accepted. A lot of people feel disenfranchised, disenchanted, discounted…just dissed. I’ve admittedly felt that way from time to time as well (made me angry which was always my quickest path to the proverbial Dark side) and then I realized that I was giving WAY to much weight to the way that people viewed/thought of me. Talk about giving myself an interior weight loss plan! Absolutely freeing. I’m just trying to focus on my 2 Covenants, the one with my wife and the one with God through Christ and my roles of husband, father and employee. While not everyone agrees with my path, my existential understanding of our place in the universe (and the resultant ethics/morals/beliefs that come with it)…I’m totally ok with that. I’ve always been weird. Nothing new under the sun. So anyways, yeah…if I disagree with you, don’t be shocked or dismayed. I’ll love you and God’ll love you too. Some things don’t change even as people, opinions, and circumstances. Striving to make quality decisions and leaning on faith, hope and love. You know the greatest of the latter group. Have a good one!

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