I won't get mad as long as you agree with me
Published 5:40 am Sunday, May 25, 2003
There is no personality more appealing than an agreeable one. Agreeable people are well liked wherever they go. Disagreeable people, on the other hand, are a pain in the @#$%^&. You want to stay here. They want to go there. You want to move forward. They want to go back. Some people just have disagreeable personalities. It doesn't matter what you say or do, they will disagree with it. Disagreeable people enjoy verbal repartee and often play "the devil's advocate" just for the sake of argument, much to the consternation of others.
Because of the bad reputation that disagreeable people have given the principle of disagreement, many of us have come to look upon disagreement as a distasteful thing of little value or virtue. Accordingly, for the sake of social harmony, and to escape the inevitable ill feelings of those with whom we disagree, we often tend to affect agreement with our friends and neighbors on matters of trivial importance even when we actually do disagree with them. This prevalent social practice can become habit-forming and may even cause the degeneration of one's moral spinal column.
It is unfortunate that disagreement has such a bad reputation because without it there would not be much reason to examine and correct the defective beliefs that we sometimes develop in our minds and embrace in our behavior. We would just go right along stumbling and falling our way through life, or at the very least, making fools of ourselves, if no one dared to ever challenge us by disagreement.
Disagreement makes most people uncomfortable, if not downright angry, especially if the disagreement is over a matter of intimate importance. Like, for example, religion and politics, two renowned topics which can rarely be discussed without fist fights breaking out. Money and property rights also rank high up as volatile disagreement issues. Fortunately, in America we usually only punch one another in the nose, spread slanderous gossip, build fences, or poison our neighbor's dog when we disagree with him on something. In less civilized societies, disagreement often leads to murder and genocide.
The rule of law and an equitable system of jurisprudence is meant to help resolve disagreements between individuals and groups; and the law does seem to keep the peace. Still, it may be observed that the loser in most legal proceedings may be compelled to comply with the judge's ruling, but rarely will he concede agreement with it. Somebody always walks away mad and unconvinced.
I perceive that a common thread in disagreements which lead to anger and conflict is a lack of complete confidence on the part of one or both parties to the disagreement in the premise that they are putting forth. For example, if I know of a certainty that my position in a matter is true and correct, I am less inclined to feel agitated toward those who disagree with me. Even as Jesus uttered as he was crucified, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do," absolute confidence in the knowledge that one possesses is a calming influence. On the other hand, many people adopt intellectual positions and base their consequent behavior upon propositions which they have not put a great deal of effort into studying or thinking about. We often build our entire lives on defective foundations. Then, when another person challenges those positions and lays out valid evidence that they are flawed, it is not simply a matter of conceding error, for conceding error may involve ripping out old misconceptions with deep roots and changing one's entire infrastructure of beliefs. It is the sudden realization that we might be wrong, and that corrective action would necessarily involve dramatic and uncomfortable change, which stirs us to anger.
Many years ago my father assigned me to build a fence one day while he was away at work. I spent the entire day in the hot summer sun digging postholes, carrying the fence posts to the holes, putting them down and tamping them in. I stretched the wire and nailed it in. When I was finished, I looked at the fence, and by golly, it was crooked as a snake. After a little rationalized thinking, I concluded that my work was "good enough." In fact, the longer I looked at it, the straighter it got. My father, however, took one look at my crooked fence that evening and disagreed. I spent the next two days tearing that fence down and rebuilding it to make it straight. I did not agree with my father's decision and I argued with him some about it. And I was angry when he ordered me to fix my errors. Still, I knew all along that my father was right. I just didn't want to rebuild that fence!
Sometimes a neighbor might ask our opinion on his fence, and we might take a gander at it and see that it is as crooked as a snake, while our neighbor grins proudly and declares that he is the best fence-builder in the land. What to do? Well, we can agree with him by lying that this is just about one of the best fences we've ever seen. Or, we can tell him the truth and disagree, in which case he will probably get angry with us, tell all our mutual neighbors that we are a critical and disagreeable jerk, and the two of us won't be good neighbors anymore. One thing's for sure though, no matter what we say about that fence: he's not going to rip it all up and straighten it out. No, he's going to just keep telling himself that it's a fine fence until he believes it. Unless, of course, his daddy sees it and makes him do it.
Lloyd Albritton is an independent columnist for the Atmore Advance. Readers who share Lloyd's interest in the art of storytelling are invited to join him every Friday at 6:00 P.M. at Atmore's Community Cup. He may be contacted at (850)384-6676 or by e-mail at LloydAlbritton@aol.com.