Agreeing to Disagree

Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone who had a different point of view? When the topic is something which you hold close to your heart, someone saying he doesn’t agree with you is akin to him stabbing you with a knife.

A stab wound hurts a lot. When someone disagrees with your point of view, it is an attack on your intelligence, your logic and your maturity. So what do you do? You do what comes naturally – you stab the other person right back by attacking his point of view. After all, only one of you can be right, right?

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the above scenario will end in a fractured relationship with whoever you disagree with. Pretty soon, neither of you will be talking about the actual issue disagreed upon – the argument will have degenerated into verbal insults and sometimes even physical blows.

Does it have to be this way? Of course not. But I am sure all of us can relate to the above scenario. While coming to physical blows may not be the case for most, frayed tempers are all too common when there are disagreements.

Let me first get this out there: If you get angry with someone else for disagreeing with your point of view, you are an insecure person.

It is not a nice thing for me to say, I know. But it is the truth, nonetheless. And here at The Thought Experiment, hard truths are always on the menu. So, let me explain why I said what I said.

A person who is insecure lacks a strong inner foundation. He does not have confidence in who he is, where he stands and what he believes. Therefore, he will overcompensate for this inadequacy by trying to prove his competence (and therefore his confidence) to himself by trying to dominate all aspects of his life. He may become possessive in his relationships with others. More controlling and particular in the way he lives his life.

And yep, you guessed it: He MUST have assurance from other people that his way of thinking is the best and correct way.

That of course, means that anyone who disagrees with him is attacking him personally. It is a high stakes battle and if he loses, there goes all his confidence and self-esteem. So he goes to any length to take down this person who disagrees with him.

And that’s where the insults and blows and destroyed relationships come in.

Still don’t want to believe me? Then consider this: Why is it such a matter of great import to be correct?

A truly confident and secure person has the guts to admit that he may be wrong. And that makes him wise. Why? Because such a person isn’t concerned with who is right or wrong. He is concerned with self-improvement.

To explain what I mean by self-improvement, let me go back to what happens during a heated disagreement. Think back to the last one you had with someone else, and ask yourself this:

At any point during the disagreement, did you jump to conclusions or make any assumptions about the person you were having the disagreement with? Such as “He is just too stubborn to admit he is wrong” or “The reason why she thinks that way is because she only reads those biased newspapers and nothing else”.

There are a million kinds of assumptions you can make about the other party, so I’ll leave it to your own self-reflection to figure out what conclusions you may have jumped to in the past, but basically the point is this:

During the disagreement, did you try to understand the other person’s point of view? Or did you unconsciously look down on the other person and attribute the reason for his disagreement with you to a character flaw?

Chances are, you did look down on the other person. The moment you think, “There’s no need to ask this person to explain herself so I can understand her point of view. She thinks this way because [insert assumption]”, you’ve elevated yourself above that person. You think you’re better than the other person in knowing what is right or wrong.

But you’re not. Instead, you are being lazy in not bothering to put in the effort to understand the other person’s point of view. And worse, you’re exhibiting double standards.

What double standards? If you can label someone else as biased, stubborn or flawed in their logic, you should also accept the possibility that you too are biased, stubborn and flawed. It is only fair, right? If you cannot accept the possibility, why can’t you? Why is it that only you get to decide who is right and not the other party?

Wise people understand this. They are able to see both sides of the coin, and accept the possibility that they might be wrong and that the other person might be right, because they are more interested in understanding the other person’s point of view and how it was formed.

And by being more interested in that rather than who is right or wrong, they open themselves to new experiences and new ways of thinking that broaden and mature them as a person. This is what I mean by self-improvement.

Think about it this way. If you truly believe others have as much right to their opinions as you do to yours, then isn’t it interesting how both of you came to different conclusions regarding the same issue? Isn’t it intriguing to try understanding how the other person came to that conclusion? Once this becomes your focus, you will find that there is no more pressure for you to be right. The other person disagreeing with you is no longer a personal attack aimed at you that you need to defend at all costs. Instead, it is an opportunity to learn and grow wiser as a person by understanding how someone else thinks.

Believe me when I say that trying to understand someone else is not easy at all, especially in the midst of a disagreement. It is far easier to get angry and use straw man arguments to beat the other party into submission. When it is all said and done, you may have “won” the argument simply by shouting louder or becoming more emotional than the other person. But what did you really gain, other than a damaged relationship and a lost opportunity for personal growth?

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that you cannot stand by your principles during a disagreement. What I am saying is that while you have your reasons for believing what you believe, so does the other party. If, during the disagreement, you feel that the other party’s reasons or basis for his point of view is weak, then it is fair game to be picked apart using logic. But that is the only thing you should be attacking – there is never ever a need to make personal attacks or baseless assumptions about the other party simply because he disagrees with you. If you really believe you are in the right, then there will be no need for such low blows because your arguments should speak for themselves. To resort to personal attacks is to reveal your own insecurity and weakness.

There are plenty of hot button issues to discuss these days, from the looming US Presidential Elections to whether teachers should view themselves as service providers and students and parents as their customers. Will you use these issues as opportunities to learn new things, or will you use them to assuage your insecurities by arguing with people who disagree with you? The choice is yours.

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2 thoughts on “Agreeing to Disagree

  1. Excellent explanation so far on this topic.. Can I ask for some tips?
    While you agree to disagree and you have even understood why someone believes what he or she believes ( lets say may be the circumstances they faced in life or their upbringing) and you feel fine they have this thought or views and I have mine.. but how to handel when the other person doesn’t seems to understand and stop talking to you even when u r ok with he or she having his way and I having my way? How to walk together when only one person seems to agree to disagree ? I would like you giving me some tips over this.. again very well written blog


    1. Hello again! Once more, apologies for the late reply. I hope I am not too late in responding.

      If someone cannot accept that you hold a different view or opinion, that says more about that person than you. So it’s up to you if you want to tolerate such behaviour, but eventually I know the lack of reciprocity in being open-minded and tolerant can be very tiresome. In such a scenario, I would advocate limiting contact with this person if possible, and letting him or her know exactly why you have chosen to do so. A person who cannot tolerate that others hold different views cannot be reasoned with, and no productive conversation can arise because of his or her stubbornness.

      I understand that in some cases limiting contact may be difficult, if the person in question is a family member or spouse. If avoiding the person is really impossible, then the non-ideal solution is to make the topic a taboo one by refusing to discuss it whenever the person brings it up. No discussion is better than fruitless discussion that may eventually lead to an argument or worse. However I emphasize that this approach is non-ideal and cutting off contact with this person (after repeated attempts to get him/her to see sense, of course) is best.

      Hope this helps!


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