Fandango’s Provocative Question for this week is: “Is it possible anymore to disagree without being disagreeable?”
It is interesting that this question was posted on the very day that my wife and I witnessed a hair-pulling confrontation with accompanying blows between two young women in a restaurant. The exact cause of the fight is unknown, but as it came to punches, a server from the restaurant who tried to calm the situation was struck and pushed, leading to a wound on her arm. So can being disagreeable be avoided?
Fandango in issuing the challenge raised the areas of religion and politics as examples of points of disagreement. These are tricky at the best of times, but it often comes down to the attitude of the disputants. Here I will need to speak with some familiarity, though No Authority. I am a minister of religion, and as such have succumbed to the occupational hazard of being a theist. I must start with the premise that “I believe, I hope, and I even have faith.” A belief is something that you hold to be true, even if you cannot “prove” it. A hope is something that you have a expectation and desire to be true. A faith is a belief in which you have absolute trust in it being true. But that is not the same as saying I have all the answers. There are many aspects of the spiritual and the temporal that I, even as a working theologian, do not “know.” It is with this attitude that I enter into religious discussions. When Fandango once challenged me on a point of word choice and semantics, I was quick to concede the point. Dogmatism on definitions is iffy at best.
When I served with the Navy’s Chaplains Corps, I was happy with the sentiments of the motto: “Cooperation without compromise.” I hold my beliefs, to which I will not yield unless given good reason, and I expect you to do the same. It isn’t about pushing one view over another, it is about common purpose. Later I worked in Inter-Faith Dialogue in which the principle was “Hold fast to your beliefs, respect others for doing the same, seek areas where there is agreement in order to facilitate further dialogue.” Does all this mean that I will not teach what I believe? Of course not, but I am not going to condemn you for disagreeing. I will share my views, not impose them.
Politics is a bit stickier. I am a trade union official. I have dealt with employers, and politicians who make educational policy. We often don’t see eye to eye, but slurs and hostility seldom result in useful results. Compromise may seem anathema in religion, but in politics – dogmatism ends up building walls – literal and figurative. Finding common ground is always best.
So can you disagree without being disagreeable? Most certainly so. In the end it is about human respect. You will never even consider my point of view unless I am willing to hear yours. Dr. King noted that aggression does not help your opponent to understand you, and that aggression breeds aggression. The path of mutual respect therefore calls for us to step back from dogmatism. Even is we in the end disagree, we need not do so disagreeably.