Why Disagreement is Good

One pioneer of the podcasting world is Dave Slusher, creator of Evil Genius Chronicles. In his Jan 4 show, Dave strongly disagreed with the main theme of my Jan 1 audio edition – that the term podcast is problematic if this new medium is to appeal to a mass audience.

Disagreement from someone with Dave’s renown in this field definitely is worth special attention. I respect his view, and I responded to him in my comment to his show.

Personally, I treasure disagreement and dissent – even when presented strongly. Such discussions can be exceptionally instructive and beneficial, even if they aren’t always comfortable.

I learned a saying a long time ago. My father might have said this to me, but I’m not sure about that. Anyway, the saying goes like this:

You’ll never learn anything if you only talk to (or listen to) people who already think just like you do.

Discussions that involve disagreement or dissent are nearly always uncomfortable. Whenever people openly express the friction of difference, they almost always trigger a emotional reactions.

Defensiveness, fear, anger, competitiveness, outrage, appeasement, evasiveness, disgust, ridicule, confusion, derision, stonewalling, abuse, and undermining generally arise wherever there’s friction in communication. Difference almost always generates some kind of friction.

Sometimes emotional reactions to friction are disguised or denied, sometimes they are naked and fierce. Still, they often play a leading role in how people interpret and respond to friction, and which words they choose to say next.

That’s natural. Everyone does it. It’s OK, as it doesn’t derail communication.

Emotional reactions are not inherently bad, wrong, rude, or immature. They can often add valuable context to a discussion, making the human element impossible to ignore. However, they can become overpowering in the sense that they can derail communication. This is what happens when people become rigid, polarized, and stop listening.

Communication rarely shuts down because people stop talking. The real impasse occurs when people stop listening, or refuse to start listening in the first place.

This is why I believe it’s crucial to regularly reach out to people who differ significantly from you. Seek out their views. If possible, engage them in private or public discussion. Ask about their lives, their concerns. Demonstrate respect for their right to hold their own views, even (or especially) when you disagree. Simply listening to what they have to say (no matter how mistaken, distasteful, or dangerous you find it) enriches your world.

We exist in the context of each other. If people were all the same, community would offer little value to anyone. Embracing and exploring the rich context of individual differences does not imply defeat or loss. Nor does it mean surrendering your own intellectual, aesthetic, or moral perspective. It simply means that you gain a deeper, broader understanding of where your own views fit in with society. That, in turn, helps you navigate society more effectively.

Fully realizing that your way of seeing the world is not the only possible, valid, or best view can be a humbling, puzzling, even painful experience. It also can be incredibly energizing, even fun. It’s OK to acknowledge all those feelings and reactions. Rationality isn’t everything.

Just remember that if you’re willing to put yourself out there, to expose yourself to potentially uncomfortable discourse, you will always, always learn from it.

2 thoughts on Why Disagreement is Good

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  1. Does any one term really make some non technical term “get it”, my standing is no, so it really doesn’t matter what you call it. People recognize a term by it’s popularity and usage. Look at blog or weblog, or tivo for that matter, who non-technical really new what that was about before it garnered mainstream attention, my my contention is a one single term/branding is not going to make somebody “get it”.

    BTW, I agree with you on many issues but here is someplace I disagree with you on. I found out about you on yesterday’s croncast and thought most of what you and kris talked about was right on. I will now be subscribing to your feeds, thanks to croncast.
    -jeff