agreeing to disagree: exploring the limits of social engagement

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Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

agreeing to disagree: exploring the limits of social engagement

we all know the common saying, we’ll just have to agree to disagree, at least in some iteration. of course, the phrase is used when two people feel like they’ve reached a point in the conversation where the wheels are spinning, but it’s really going nowhere. no doubt, i’ve uttered this saying numerous times, particularly as of late.

over the last several weeks, i’ve made a very concerted effort to disengage from a lot of the back-and-forth political banter on twitter and facebook. particularly on twitter, it’s so easy to fire back at someone from what you perceive as a misinformed viewpoint or just plainly false information. while i don’t log on to facebook that often, i find myself—like a moth to the flame—being drawn to a few people who regularly post status update nonsense.

in the midst of making this effort, my good friend derek (via @midrash_lr) posted the following tweet:

Let’s end, “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” This ends the convo. Instead let’s try “good men can disagree” & ctn the convo.

on its most fundamental level, i couldn’t agree any more with derek’s sentiment. when it’s possible in any way, i don’t like to cut off conversations, be it theology or politics or sports or what color the sky is. the core of derek’s statement is about bringing conversations to a grinding halt and choosing to live in a state of unwillingness to further engage another viewpoint. fundamentally, i like the idea.

but i’ve learned that sometimes a fundamental value is confronted with an immovable reality.

in my concerted effort to disengage with the social media banter, i’ve just simply learned that “good men can disagree” is generally a utopian dream rather than a pragmatic reality.

with several people particularly, i’ve had to learn the often frustrating lesson that ending the conversation is the absolute best-case scenario. some people simply refuse to truly hear another perspective. moreover than that, i’ve experienced over and over people who would rather wallow in misinformation than engage facts and simply let the truth sift out. no doubt, i have an extremely difficult time backing off my ideas and points-of-view, but i’d like to believe that i’m always open to the possibility of being wrong and re-evaluating. when one or more of the participants in the conversation are unwilling to do that, the conversation ceases to be a conversation, but rather, a series of pious monologues.

derek is absolutely right. good men (or women) can disagree and continue the conversation. what i’ve had to learn, though, is sometimes, we must simply agree to disagree.

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