A Lost Art

As far back as I can remember, I had opinions about things and I was very fond of my opinions. I was a smart little boy raised by two opinionated parents which started me down that path. By high school, I was considered a brain. I was also 4 foot ten my Freshman year. I know there is debate as to whether Short Man Syndrome is a real thing but I am sure that I overcompensated for my stature though my intelligence. Fortunately for me and the world I had grown to five foot eight by my junior year, but the damage was done … I was an arrogant, opinionated young man. An undergraduate degree and two graduate degrees only made me more so. In my thirties and early forties, if someone had tried to end an argument by telling me, Let’s agree to disagree, I’d have thought they were out of their minds. I’m right and we’ll argue until I convince you or we walk away mad. The latter happened a lot. At work it was my way or the highway.

At seventy-six, I consider agreeing to disagree a primary element of a civilized society. When I look around at the polarization of our citizenry in almost every aspect of life, from politics and religion to personal preferences like art music and dress, I come to the conclusion that is also A lost Art. So, how did I go from Let’s Argue to the Death to Let’s Agree to Disagree? Let’s make this clear right up front … I still love my opinions and most often think I’m right. But in my forties, I began to hang around 12-Step meetings, where I heard things like Would You Rather Be Right or Happy? Believe me, it took some years for me to learn that the two weren’t synonymous but eventually I did. In 12-Step meetings, you get to say your piece then you get to listen. You talk about yourself and what’s happening in your life and you don’t directly address others. That took some getting used to but over time I learned that everyone had something to say, not necessarily something I agreed with but something thought provoking. In these meetings, I met a very diverse group of people … race, religion, economic status, politics, and personal interests. If I wanted, I could find something to disagree with in everyone of them. But the relationships worked better if we Agreed to Disagree on certain matters. The rules were different with each person. With some, certain topics were avoided. With others, discussion or even lively debate was OK … we just never sought to change each others minds. I began to do the same thing in all my relationships and both friendships and business relationships flourished.

Agreeing to Disagree does more than prevent arguments. It frees people to get to know each other and find areas of commonality and agreement. When we stop having to prove we’re right, even if we still think we are, it leaves the

door cracked open to another Lost Art, listening. It paves the path to working together in areas of agreement and keeps us from seeing each other just as opponents. And I believe that it helps us see both sides of an issue, even if our loyalties lie on one side or the other. I really dislike Donald Trump as a man but I can understand that many Americans feel dismissed (if not outright scorned) by mainstream politicians. Think of Hillary Clinton referring to Trump’s supporters as deplorables if you need an example. I believe there is a political elite that thinks they know what’s best for all of us. Unfortunately, Donald Trump and his crew think they know what’s best for all of us, too, and they are a lot less subtle about making it happen. We need to get to a place where we stop shouting at each other long enough see ourselves as citizens of our nation more than as members of a political party or movement. And we need to look for leaders that are willing to do the same. Now, there’s a challenge.

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