A while back, I posted an entry entitled "Friends Can Disagree." Inspired by something Dokuma said (with whom I have disagreed often ), it challenges the foolish and all too common feeling many people have that a friend is someone who agrees totally (or even mostly) with you (and so they turn cold... or worse... towards anyone who dares express a disagreement).
Today I wanna take it a step farther.
It has occured to me recently that only with a friend can you truly disagree.
"But bones," you say, "there's this person I know, and we hate each other -- we disagree all the time! Are you saying we agree with enemies? Is that skull of yours empty?!"
Of course, by a certain definition of "disagree", enemies can disagree. But I'm not here to argue about words -- what I wanna do here is give you my perspective on why you disagree, and what value you can take from talking to people with the right attitude.
It comes down to a subtle difference between "disagree", as I'm defining it, and "oppose". Lemme quote Dictionary.com. And let's go right to the first definition in each case.
Most other synonyms of these words don't show the contrast so clearly. In plain English, disagreement is a word that simply means two people have two different opinions. It doesn't mean they are enemies. Oppose implies, on the other hand, a war or struggle.
And ironically, when it comes to opinions, wars do very little to convince the other side. Worse, when you get emotionally worked up, your body is flooded with chemical drugs that literally impair your judgement, similar to alchohol.
Often people form or nuance their opinions right in the midst of debate about things they haven't thought about before. When we have an antagonistic attitude towards the other person in discussions, often we aren't even really sure what we believe, but we pick a side, or act more resolute in the side we're on, getting defensive.
Think about it. Is this truly disagreement?
I submit to you that it isn't. To anyone who has their eyes open, it's clear that the worked-up debater's judgement is not trustworthy, and they probably don't actually believe half of what they're saying. And even to people who don't consciously observe that, trust me, subconsciously they do.
This is why people get defensive; they aren't so much disagreeing with your opinion when they argue with you, they are rejecting your opinion outright. And you may be tempted to do the same to them. Ironically the person that emotionally rejects the opinion like this actually feeds their own defensive emotions, impairing their own emotions.
But if you have the attitude of "I'm going to treat this person as a friend, even if they don't return the favor, and honestly listen to their opinion, think about it," THEN you can judge opinions clearly (both theirs and yours), and if you end up still disagreeing, you can say so in a calm and friendly way.
How many times have you had truly enjoyable discussions with someone who disagreed with you? Who are those people?
They are your friends!
Whether on BZPower or real life or wherever, there have been a few times where I've had discussions with people who firmly disagree with me -- not people I know very well, per se -- sometimes it's somebody on BZPower I never even noticed before, but some topic comes up that we're both interested in... There's just SOMETHING about them that makes the discussion very fun, even thrilling.
Until recently I never realized what it was. I and they both had an attitude of sincere friendliness towards each other.
Of the people I know in real life, my brother is my best friend. And I know now why that is. It's not that we agree on everything. By no means. Certainly not that we have the same personal tastes, or talents, or even weaknesses. No. It's that when I talk to him, I know that he is willing to truly listen, and I am willing to truly listen to him. If we disagree, we never get emotionally worked up, and as such it's easier to be free with our opinions to each other.
Often there are other people who have "disagreement issues", if you will -- they get more emotionally worked up at the slightest disagreement. With some people, it depends on the mood they're in. Sometimes, they honestly don't know what to think about something, so that gets them into a listening mood, and they may actually ask my opinion on something, knowing I'm a thoughtful and sharply aware person. But other times, if they've made up their mind about something even a little, they will act like a totally different person, vehemently hating on the slightest disagreement.
There's a natural, subconscious reaction to that.
When I'm around people like that... as much as I pride myself on forming my opinions accurately, I simply cannot help it -- I think twice before I speak disagreements.
I will not actually pretend to agree with anyone because of their attitudes. I fear nobody. But nor do I desire conflict, and sometimes saying nothing is disagrement enough.
But with Ojhilom (my bro's screenname here), I don't need to do that.
And it need not be limited to somebody you know well. I know Ojhilom well, but as I said, there are plenty of BZPers who I've had enjoyable discussions with -- including disagreeing -- that I barely know. Sometimes I've never even met them.
And this is part of maturity too, BTW. One of my big areas of interest as I observe others is maturity... and opinions about just what the heck "maturity" is anyways. Being able to disagree in a friendly manner with ANYONE is a vital aspect of maturity, but sadly many people go through life with no clue about this. They may be mature physically, be into "adult things" (the most immature kind of opinion about "maturity" and sadly the most common besides the obvious physical meaning), or even be psychologically mature in many ways -- but this is one area that most people miss.
Deep down, we ALL know it. There are psychological environments in which we know we are expected to behave this way, and almost everybody can perform reasonably in them.
Classroom discussions. Board meetings. Forum topics that are presented in certain ways.
But for some reason, a lot of people instinctually react horribly in other situations -- situations that do NOT justifiably call for a combat attitude.
A wartime battle is a good place for combativeness.
A forum topic is not.
Neither, for that matter, are the vast majority of other real life situations you're likely to find yourself in. Especially not discussions with family, or with anyone about mere opinions. (And of course, ESPECIALLY not about personal tastes -- as I've proven in other blog entries, personal tastes actually are subjective truths that depend on the person, although most other kinds of opinions are not.)
I would bet everything I own that this alone would save the vast majority of troubled marriages, other broken relationships and friendships, prevent all forum flamewars, solve most topics in which people have hostile attitudes towards each other... and it would probably also end up resulting in a lot less ultimate disagreement, as "truthseeking debate" is much easier this way. If only all people involved would be truly friendly -- not with a smug smile to hide frustration, but confidently -- on the inside.
And I must make one frank aside here about my own dominion on BZPower -- I've noticed a lot of S&Ters seem to enter question and theory topics with a "opposition" attitude -- as silly and wrong as many of those topic starters' opinions were, yall just make it worse when you treat them in your tone as Enemy instead of Friend. I suspect most S&Ters aren't consciously aware of this, but it's a disturbing trend I've noticed in recent years. (Nobody name names. )
S&T used to be known as the place peopled by a ton of helpful story geeks who could answer your question and with whom you could have fun discussing theories, but lately that reputation has sadly been replaced with one of a forum with "canon hammerers" that others are intimidated by (often unfairly, but increasingly fairly), and frankly the forum activity has suffered from that IMO. If any of you S&Ters think your forum leader approves, think again. I've just found myself unable to effectively combat it by the occasional reminder (I've even considered a pinned topic about it... but for now, let's just see if this blog entry makes any dent ).
Often in S&T topics, lately, I'll see a topic starter ask a question, or post a theory, and then get a wave of replies that are antagonistic -- they don't cross the line into flaming, but antagonism has no place in S&T on any level! The topic starter WAS wrong about something, but the attitude-posts don't help them see it usually; they just get more defensive, and fail to see the repliers' points. And then I come in and in one post -- and it doesn't have to be anywhere near the long posts I am famous for! -- I can do what twenty people and/or twenty posts failed to do -- clear up the misconceptions and get the topic starter to recognize it. Whether I close the topic or not (and I know in many cases when I closed them because topic starters PM me to thank me).
It's not just just my position of authority or the detail I often include -- it's mainly the attitude I have towards the topic starter, which is friendly. I ignore all the drama, and just cut to the chase in a polite way. Really not that hard (in fact, it's far easier ).
In other words, just because someone is wrong (whether just in your opinion or in fact), doesn't give you the right to have a bad attitude towards them. And even if they themselves had a bad attitude to begin with, you be the one to set a better example. (But I've seen it plenty of times when the topic starter was plenty cheerful, but hopelessly noobish. )
And by no means is it limited to a particular forum division, so I don't want S&Ters to feel singled out or others to look haughtily at them. Nobody is innocent totally of this (and haughtiness is perhaps a worse crime, incidently ). And I wanna be clear -- I wasn't even thinking of S&Ters when I started this blog entry, so there weren't any particularly bad incidents of late that sparked this or anything. This is just something I finally realized recently that I am thrilled to finally understand and wanna pass it on.
If you thought of somebody else on BZP -- or in real life -- when you read this, stop. Look at yourself. (Always good advice, I've found, in anything.)
Anyone who fails to treat the other person as a friend ironically does their very own opinion an injustice, by failing to stand up for it in a way that gives it true credit -- and more importantly (because even that opinion you have COULD be wrong ), you do yourself an injustice.
So, in summary, in discussions always treat others as your friends.
Even if they treat you as the enemy. Whether on forums or in real life. Talk =/= war, and it never should (except perhaps taunting in battle. ). When you start out with the right attitude towards others, it will open up a wondeful world in which disagreements are not just pleasant, but are only in this world truly even possible.