What in the World: The joy of amicable disagreement

Dear Reader,

You are not right about everything you believe to be true and good. Shocking, I know. What is even crazier is that I, a wizened twenty-six-year-old, also do not have the world entirely figured out. All of this is acceptable and fine. Who wants to hang out with an omniscient young adult? Not many people, and those who do are only after the lotto numbers.

Life is full of people who have differing opinions on a plethora of subjects. For instance, there are folks who think cheering for a team other than the Green Bay Packers is morally feasible or that Tekashi 6ix9ine is a solid guy to tell a secret to. 

How do we confront such obviously logically flawed individuals? Shouting them down would likely be cathartic, but makes you a jerk. Digging up their old tweets and destroying their life is another option, but also makes you a jerk. So the question really is, “How do I disagree with someone without being a jerk?”

As an aside, if you are okay being a jerk, then I wish you the best in life, as you will most assuredly need all the good fortune you can get.

When confronting someone in a non-jerkish fashion, politely ask them why they think the way they do. There are many good people who hold poorly thought out or wayward ideas on a topic, and who, if given the opportunity to voice these aloud, may notice the flaws in their own thinking without you ever saying a word. 

It is vitally important you do not interrupt these people, even if what they are saying causes hemorrhaging in your ears. Remember, this conversation with you may be one of the few interactions they have with someone they disagree with on the subject. You must comport yourself in such a way that even if they leave the conversation with you unconvinced, they will remember there was a kindly person who opposed their opinion respectfully. This is the seed of their possible conversion to your point of view. 

If they carry on in this irritating manner of not agreeing with you immediately, are we allowed then to condemn their asininity? Nope. At this juncture, ask if they would consider an opposing or alternate point of view. If they agree — which they more than likely will because you showed respect listening to them — you can proceed, having won over their ear.

State your case clearly and concisely. Rambling will only create confusion and pushback. When done with a thought or point, give them time to respond and ask further questions. Lecturing is unattractive; give-and-take conversation is extremely attractive. 

Here is an example of such a conversation: Say you are discussing immigration with a staunch restrictionist named Bob. Bob intimates that an influx of unverified immigrants can be dangerous and that there are negative economic impacts on low-income citizens due to unfettered immigration. This view offends your sense of what is right. You think anyone who can have a better life here should be able to enter the country and call it home. Labeling Bob a bigot and tuning him out is tempting, is it not?

But let us assume Bob’s opinion is not formed out of deep-seated animosity towards immigrants but instead out of concern for his fellow countrymen and family. He sees unverified immigrants as a danger because the U.S. cannot know who these folks coming into the country are and the details of their various backgrounds. Those who move here from other places are not inherently good or bad. They are people with all the flaws attendant. So this concern for the safety of one’s own family and community is natural. 

Likewise, mass migration economically impacts the working poor far more than the wealthy and middle-class because the working poor and immigrants have similar résumés. It would indeed be strange not to wish for a classmate who had a hard life and is working their way back up to not be hired on a job due to being priced out of the marketplace by cash-based immigrant labor.

Though you disagree with Bob and his companions’ solution to these valid concerns, you should assume the best of why they hold it. Now that you understand their concerns, try to convince them that your view addresses the issue they have with expanded immigration.

They fear for the safety of their family. Good on them. Immigrant families are often escaping situations where their fear for their own family was so great that they decided to move hundreds or thousands of miles in miserable conditions. Perhaps Bob had not considered this.

There is then the noble worry for the native working poor in Bob’s area being priced out by labor competition. Also valid. Perhaps you offer a rejoinder of how a greater market of untapped labor is attractive to businesses who are looking to move out of a stagnant hiring market. 

Proceeding in this manner, you and Bob are working towards a communal middle-ground. He is not put off, as you are showing him respect by validating his worries while bringing him to see his concerns may be misplaced or overwrought.

Most folks will not, because of pride and shock of exposure, immediately side with your views. This is fine. Humans need time to wrestle with an opposing view, and it would be alarming if a fifteen-minute exchange resulted in Bob’s total realignment to your way of thinking. 

Being a good person involves being especially kind to people you disagree with. Character development seldom occurs with those who never disagree with you. Challenge yourself, challenge your thinking and have a chat with someone you see as wrong. You, they and the world will be better for it in an age where shouting is too common and common humanity is rare.

Any comments or concerns can be directed to abell@lawrence.edu. Thank you for reading