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?

Lower Your Expectations, Increase Your Serenity

the moment you expect something its business not love

Lowering your expectations sounds like giving up. Expecting to achieve a certain level of competence in something or expecting someone to accomplish goals or responsibilities seems reasonable enough. The problem is when we have expectations of achievements or of others and we don’t communicate what the goals are, create a plan for how to reach them, or don’t have the consent of the parties involved. This problem intensifies when our own sense of usefulness or self-worth is fused with what we expect others to accomplish or be.

Collaborative expectations are the expression of goals to which more than one person has consented. Effective leaders who value worker satisfaction around a strong team-based environment are most suited to this approach. Feedback from all parties involved is continuous and cyclical in order that objectives and processes are clearly communicated and understood.

Peremptory expectations are essentially commands that pressure behaviors to accomplish objectives often combined with punishment and reward. Hierarchies that require a strict chain of command will operate most effectively here. Feedback that people know how to perform objectives in order to meet their expected goals is essential lest they misunderstand what they should be doing and fail to achieve goals because of lapses in communication.

Passive expectations¬†are achievements or states desired of others where they are unaware of what’s going on. These are relationship killers. Without clear communication of desires and of outcomes, the image of how people should ideally behave around us will never resolve with how things actually are in the present moment. People will always fail us and we will resent everyone because we haven’t given people the opportunity to succeed.

The first step to managing our relationships with others is an honest evaluation of from where our expectations are coming and if what we expect from others is a good fit for the kind of relationship we have or want with them. If we are not on the same page with others and there is a mismatch of the kind of expectations we have for each other, problems will emerge.

The next step is the truth about all expectations we have of others: we cannot control people no matter how much we want to. I may have the idea that I ought to be able to control my kids, but the reality is that I cannot. With kids there is a time for peremptory expectations and the consequences and rewards that come with them. I might need to take a phone away if I catch them in a lie or might throw in a set of Pokemon cards for a job well done during a grade marking period. Most of the time I want them to make their own decisions and work with me on shared goals and expectations that they can own. I would rather us be more collaborative. What I try to avoid is a set of expectations based on an ideal picture I have of them that I fail to communicate. That sets them up for failure and I want to set them up for success. Moreover, if I base my self-worth or usefulness in their achievements, I now only set myself up for failure, I will stymie their growth in the process. My self-worth is my responsibility, their self-worth is theirs. Confusing this muddies the waters and creates problems where there should not be any.

Finally, no matter what, I cannot be so set on an ideal picture I have of others that no matter what I do to establish an expectation, they will fail. People cannot meet an ideal standard for the simple reason that they are not literally inside of our minds. The best they can do is come close to that picture. But if they do not meet that picture, the worst thing that any of us can do is resent them for it. It’s important to lower or change our expectations of others in order to give them the freedom to flourish on their own and to value the path they choose. Learning to adapt and change the image we have of others helps us to stay in the present, avoid resentment, and nourish the relationships we have.