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Learning to Disagree Effectively

Posted by Karen Kimsey-House on Mar 22, 2017 8:00:50 AM

There’s a potent divisiveness in our world today. I feel it most keenly here at home in the battle for power in our not-so-United States. And as populism takes hold, divisiveness and division is spreading across the globe.

For me, the most disturbing aspect of our recent election cycle here in the U.S. was that it was so incredibly personal. In both campaigns, the focus was almost exclusively on personal attacks on other candidates. There was almost no debate or controversy based on real issues.

This is so unfortunate. I miss the days of active debate focused on issues. In my experience, this kind of disagreement fortified and strengthened the thought process on both sides of the debate, and whichever point of view prevailed was fortified by the rigor of passionate disagreement.

In my experience, it is our difference, not our sameness, that ultimately unites us. To truly evolve, it is vital for us to learn how to disagree with each other in ways that are simultaneously enthusiastic and respectful, passionate and sensitive.

 When we can stand firmly in grounded commitment to our own unique voice and bring that together with openness to other, divergent points of view, disagreement can nourish and grow us.

By staying in the discourse, something new emerges that is much larger than the sum of two points of view. Far beyond a mere compromise, this adroit new approach is born from creative tension and carries previously unavailable possibilities.

One thing that will help us become more comfortable with disagreement is to practice stepping away from personalizing disagreement — that is, disagreeing with the PERSON rather than the IDEA. Certainly, personal disagreement has become a centralizing focus of partisan politics. The great tragedy of this is that it cuts our political leaders off from robust discourse on ideas and principles and instead pulls the conversation to an immature level of name calling and personal attack.

There are times when we need to move quickly, and it is vital that those in charge step forward and chart a course they feel is best for the good of the whole. Still, deep listening and the ability to disagree are critical in creating alignment and shaping direction.

It can be challenging to simultaneously hold self-respect and deep listening, to represent ourselves with commitment, and at the same time to allow ourselves to be shaped and changed by input from the world around us.

I pray that the tumult of these divisive times will force us to expand our capacity for inclusion and increase our ability to tolerate ideas and beliefs very different from our own. When we can learn to allow for different points of view, while standing firmly in our own truth, it becomes truly possible to live together in harmony.

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