August 11, 2013

When We Disagree (in Print).

My dad always told me to be careful what I put into writing.

It’s kind of ironic that I became a writer, isn’t it?

In person—in actual conversations—I’m much more likely to be the sort of person who says too much of what I think than not enough (hence my oft-repeated reference to my “foot-in-mouth disease”).

Yet, on paper (or on the computer screen, as this day and age may be) our boundaries are sometimes less clear.

On the one hand there’s that whole First Amendment thing.

We Americans tend to take for granted our abilities, for the most part, to read and hear and say what we want to.

And here’s the other hand: if I get to voice my opinion, then you should also be able share yours too, even and especially if I don’t agree with you.

It’s the American way.

No, it’s the evolved way.

If we want a free society rather than a Fox news one (sorry—okay, not really) then we need to keep in mind that not all of us will always see eye-to-eye (and that some if us, in fact, might just adore Fox news).

So what do we do? What do we do when people oppose us or insult us either with their words or their articles or their ideas?

Well, for one, we need to maintain our sense of curiosity.

We need to be interested in what this other person has to offer, even if we think it might not match up with what we’ve already figured out about life and about ourselves, and, for another, we should keep a distance.

As a blogger, this is of the utmost importance.

People disagree with me all the time in their commentary, and I try to remember that I got to put in my two cents before they got to throw in their own.

Yet here’s, perhaps, the most important thing to consider: just because you offer criticism or a differing view, this doesn’t mean that I have to accept it.

I have the ability, thank God, to turn my cheek and continue walking in the same direction from where I came, and so do you—but sometimes it’s nice to have a civil kiss-kiss good-bye before our parting, no?

One of the most valuable life-lessons that I’ve taken away from this computer screen and back into my everyday, ordinary existence is this gift of discord, of disharmonious thoughts and purposes.

I don’t necessarily like the saying that we need to walk in each other’s shoes before we understand one another, because that’s impossible and, honestly, it’s meaningless unless we put it into practice.

So how about we put it into practice (or this deceptively easy concept, at least)?

I remember a holiday-time rule in my family, to not talk politics or religion—and no one adhered to this rule. (They just hoped that the other people who disagreed with them would stick to it.)

I’ve witnessed blow-outs and eerily calm feuds.

In short, I most likely have a very skewed definition of what it means to argue because I was raised to not be afraid of the challenge.

Yet, specifically as a writer and blogger, this also means I’ve had to equally learn how to (ahem) listen and stay open-minded (and that, note to self, yelling is never appropriate).

But what about when our disagreements are in writing? On air? In publications (like elephant journal and Fox news)?

What do we do when we disagree in writing (like my dad warned me about at such a tender age)?

Here are a few suggestions I have—hard-earned through my caustically sharp and occasionally imperfect tongue and fingertips: we listen, we try to understand, and then we move on.

We move on because we’re better for the discussion—and for the opposition.

We’re better because we’ve either further committed to our already existing notions or we’ve opened ourselves up to an entirely new one.

We’re better because we know that we’re strong enough to not always be right, and we’re smart enough to know that life is generally more grey than right and wrong—and, thankfully, there’s nearly always more than one side to a story.

“Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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