I do not Agree to Disagree

What presuppostitions does “disagreement” hide? Do “agreement” and “disagreement” help (or hinder) conversations, decisions, and understanding?

For a long time now, whenever I hear someone say “I disagree” to me, or someone else, it always sticks in my craw a little bit. I haven’t quite understood why; certainly I want folks I converse with to feel free to tell their own stories and speak about their experiences.

Marshall Rosenberg, developer of Nonviolent Communication, helped me to understand that one can violently appreciate just as easily as condemn. To call me “right”, “perfect”, to grade me with an “A+”, implies that you can also grade with an “F-“, and call me “wrong” and “flawed”. The dark side of positive labels rests uneasily behind the euphoria that such labeling produces.

So how does this apply to agreement or disagreement?

If you say you “disagree” with me, than that indicates you’ve heard me, understood my story, and come to the conclusion that it doesn’t match your own attitudes and opinions well. But what if you don’t understand my story? Only I can say whether or not you’ve heard me; only I can say whether or not I feel that you have gone the distance in understanding me so that I can relax and allow that you have a good grasp of my experience.

In other words, how can you disagree with something you don’t understand yet? You must understand it before you can agree or disagree.

But then, what about when you decide that you agree with me, before you understand me? Has this ever happened to you, where someone responds affirmatively to an opinion of yours, then takes off running, saying all kinds of (in your mind) off-base things, that they think express your opinion too?

So, do agreement or disagreement even matter? They seem so extraneous to the goal of understanding each other. Do we mean anything else by these words, other than the ham-fisted application of judgement and labels?

And what about those conversations where you argue for an hour, and then at the end realize you both “agree”? The waste of energy and emotion over…what?

I’d like to hear about your experiences with agreement and disagreement. When have they helped? Hurt?

Written by Willem