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Leadership Thought #439 – It’s Okay To Disagree

July 7, 2013

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Being able to disagree well is part of becoming a well-functioning adult.

At what point did it stop becoming okay to have a different opinion in our country?  I just finished reading the newspaper and yet again, having a different point of view, quickly degraded into personal attacks by both parties.  We have become the hyper-sensitive generation who can’t seem to tolerate a perspective that is different from our own.  A democratic culture is supposed to foster an environment of healthy debate which hopefully leads to the best possible outcomes for most people.  It is through exchanging wide-ranging ideas, striving to uncover the facts and challenging status quo thinking that we move forward as a nation. Debate is a good thing!  And guess what, no one party or individual has the market cornered on good ideas.  Your side won’t always win the argument or election and that is how it should be.  And, if you always tow the party line you are an ideologue not a free thinker.

I’ve always felt that the person who quickly moves towards personal attacks either knows they have the weaker argument or doesn’t really understand the issue(s) to begin with.  It’s also well-known in mental health circles that fear lurks behind every disproportionate emotional reaction.   Fear of what you may ask – this is always a good question and worth probing.  Moreover, fear often manifests itself as anger.  It also makes someone easier to manipulate. Sadly, many of us tend to be attracted to stronger personalities who offer simple untested answers to complex problems.  Charisma does not mean intelligence nor is it an accurate reflection of character.  The ensuing herd mentality that follows can be a scary thing to watch.   You’re either with me or against is a very slippery slope that in its worst form triggers verbally abusive and/or physically violent reactions.   It’s far too easy to find a scapegoat as to why your own life or society isn’t working exactly as you’d like it to be rather than look in the mirror.  We all have underlying motivations…

We need to stop rewarding dysfunctional childlike behaviors by our public officials, business leaders and media personalities.  Why elect or reward someone who is a close-minded bully?  If your ideas can’t stand the glare and scrutiny of the public spotlight, then that is your problem not mine.  Yelling at someone or talking over them just means you have bad manners, not much else.  If you are unwilling to listen to what someone else has to say, then by definition you aren’t communicating.  Your opponent is not the enemy, they are just someone with a different view of things.  Take the time to understand why they feel this way, what evidence they are using to back up their claims, offer your own perspective and then strive to find some level of common ground or agree to disagreeNever fall in love with your own opinions.  You don’t have to win every argument, but you are supposed to grow and evolve in your thinking as a human being.

Not only is it okay to disagree but it should be encouraged. Our democracy is partially founded upon this basic principle.  Our Founding Fathers understood that critical thinking is a societal imperative.  However, how one disagrees is a completely different story.  Winning isn’t everything.  How and why, you win matters.  Strive to elevate the level of discourse in your personal and professional dealings rather than lower it.  Hold others accountable for aberrant or unproductive behavior rather than cheer them on as it suits your personal interest.  Never forget that who you follow is a direct reflection of who you are.  If a topic is important to you, then take the time to study it rather than jumping to quick conclusions.  Open your mind to what others have to say whether you initially agree with them.  You may learn something in the process, and we will all be better off as a result.