Just Disagree

In these days of heated disagreements online between Facebook friends and distance foes often conversations either end with so much digital huffing and puffing, the rare point of cognitive confluence, and often with the saccharine and amicable appeal to “agree to disagree.”

This appeal comes from several motivations, at least some of which are likely related. One is to end the conversation where it is regardless of any expected outcome. The person offering this alternative might just be too tired or too bored to continue. That is all well and good. With attenuated attention spans and over-committed lives, persisting in online conversations heading nowhere with a stranger feels rarely worth the time and effort.

Another motivation is to end the conversation, but on amicable terms. Each response is a new brick of anxieties placed in a growing wall of alienation from the person with whom you are engaged. To avoid the risk of severing ties you find the one thing that you can agree upon and that is the obvious observation of disagreement itself.

These two competing reasons of relative exhaustion or relational disconnection seem reasonable enough to end a conversation at least on good terms before it dissolves into inevitable blocking. But there is another reason why this happens that is perhaps no less reasonable, but far more damaging.

By saying that you should “agree to disagree” you are saying not only that you wish to end the conversation for the reasons listed above in the short term, but to end it permanently. It is at once an admission that you are unwilling to entertain the possibility that your interlocutor’s position might be more correct than your beliefs are willing to give and a removal of at least one thread of conversation from the relationship you have with the person on the other side. It is a rather weak but clever power move that sets the terms for the relationship and the conversation moving forward.

Rather than remove the agency of the people with whom we disagree by dismissing the conversation altogether, we should be more willing to allow disagreements to exist in the context of our human relationships. It is a way of reaffirming each other’s power to acknowledge another person who has ideas and at least a modicum of competence to communicate those ideas as well as to reaffirm one’s own status as one empowered to raise issues that may be controversial to those who disagree with one’s position.

Simple disagreement is also a path to greater vulnerability with each other. By affirming the disagreement with no qualifications, we are inviting the conversation to continue with the possibility that the positions we hold so dearly will be proven to be wrong at least in part. Simple disagreement invites the possibility of change where dissolving into a false agreement demands resolution where in reality there is none forthcoming.

In an effort to construct conversation that does not demand false resolutions of civility or concede an end of dialogue but rather is brave enough to admit each other’s vulnerability, and demands the possibility of change even if in the distant future, let us simply disagree with one another and allow the conversation to persist.

Don’t you agree?

Sickness and the School


I set out to write a post every day this year. Then I got a nasty flu bug. For a couple of weeks I have been foggy, tired, and unwilling to probe my mind for an idea worth writing about. That’s because whatever resources I might normally use to think and write have been sucked up by resting and exhaustion. As a result, I’ve missed a few weeks already.

If there is one theme on my mind these days it is what it looks like if I understand the primary function of my body and brain as survival. How I learn, love, and relate to others is rooted in my primary instinct to survive in this world. If sickness does anything, it sends one’s focus inward. I become less observant and less aware of the things around me. This is partially out of a conscious choice. I need to do things like rest to get my body well. But I also think it is more of an automatic defense mechanism that sets in motion. When I’m sick, I’m less aware of the world outside of my body.

The self as an idea our brains create as part of the most complex set of mechanisms that work for the survival of an animal species becomes most clear when the human system is in danger. Whether it’s a flu, a home invader, losing a job, or breaking up with a lover, the shift of focus inward is both automatic and sudden. Maslow understood this in his famous hierarchy of needs.

If we are considering learning, until we meet the basic survival needs of a student, we cannot expect much in the way of mastery of much of anything. The same goes for the general health and progress of a society. We cannot expect hungry and insecure people to make much progress because all of their resources are being used to see that they will simply stay alive. If we are to make progress as a society, we must feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and heal the sick. To expect more out of people such as these is to demand that they go against their nature which is an affordance the privileged never have to imagine in their lives.