The Act of Disagreement: A Vanishing Art

It goes without saying that if you want encouraging news, then don’t go on Facebook (or any other social media site, for that matter). Whereas social media seemingly began as an innocent means for friends to connect, it has increasingly become a virtual soapbox for anyone to broadcast whatever chaps their hide. Though there are many who seek to avoid the cacophony of complaints and rants, they are seemingly unable to be heard above the noise of political, religious, and cultural rantings.

Two Rams FightingWe could spend countless hours discussing the reasons why negativity reigns supreme throughout social media, but that’s not the purpose here. What I want to focus on is the vanishing art of disagreement. I wrote in a previous post that social media has exacerbated the tendency of poor argumentation – attacking the person with whom one disagrees as opposed to dealing with the issue. Instead of dealing with the issue, it is easier to resort to character-bashing, name calling, and ranting. One result of this poor approach to argumentation is the devaluing of the act of disagreement. What can be a fertile field for dialogue tends to be nothing more than a verbal slugfest.

When two or more people disagree, there is an opportunity for both to seek to either demonstrate the plausibility of one’s view or to persuade the other of one’s view. Here, the parties seek to reason with each other about the issue(s) at hand. And while agreement is not always attained, a disagreement handled well can aid in the parties at least understanding where the other is coming from.

"Dialogue" within social media. Credit: Coldbourne.

“Dialogue” within social media. Credit: Coldbourne.

However, we are human; disagreements involve not only one’s reason, but their emotions and deeply-held beliefs as well. As such, disagreements can descend into shouting matches or verbal standoffs as emotions rise and beliefs are insulated from attack. Granted, this is not a problem that has risen since the advent of social media, but it has become more of an issue recently because we daily encounter an onslaught of disagreements as more and more people are able to have their voice heard.

What is needed today is a refresher on what it means to disagree and how to operate within a disagreement. Honestly, I don’t have this issue figured out—it’s something I’ve just begun reflection upon. But, here are a few thoughts that came to mind:

  1. Is voicing a disagreement necessary? That is, why do you feel the need to state a disagreement? Is it for edification (there are times when a disagreement must be voiced)? Or, is it to satisfy the desire to get on the proverbial soapbox?
  2. Is the disagreement legitimate? That is, is there a valid point of disagreement? Sometimes disagreements are over peripheral issues or matters of preference – things where there is room for disagreement without the need to break fellowship.
  3. Why are you disagreeing? This question is similar to the first question, but here I have in mind the idea of purpose. A disagreement seeks to right a wrong, expose error and promote truth, and to clear away any hindrances to right relationships. Yet, often times one disagrees out of dislike of a person or idea. Some are contrarian by nature, while others have a strong sense of being right in all (if not most) matters. Thus, they pick a battle often. Regardless, disagreement for the sake of disagreeing does nothing more than stir strife and deepen any divide.
  4. Is it the right time to disagree? Here, I have the idea of choosing your battles wisely. As a parent, I find myself so quick to correct my daughters. Yet, as they’ve grown older (and I hopefully wiser), I’ve found that it is best to be silent at times, while there are other times best for correction. That is, I don’t need to nit-pick their every wrong – I’ll end up exasperating them. Likewise, if one’s tendency is to voice a disagreement at every wrong (real or perceived), then they are likely to be viewed as the boy who cried wolf. There is wisdom in the words of Proverbs:

    A fool gives vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back (Prov. 29:11, ESV).

    Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him (Prov. 29:20).

  5. Is the disagreement stated in context? Twitter and Facebook allow for quick responses to news, articles, etc. As such, the temptation is to simplify the issue of disagreement. That is, it comes across like “they say A, but I say B!” It sets up a dichotomy between the two parties. I just did this in a Tweet (since deleted) where I linked an article with which I disagreed along with a claim of my own. Sure, it let others know of where I stood, but it did little on illuminating what the article’s author said that I disagreed with, and how I believe we should answer him. Most people, when reading a status update, will only read a linked article’s title as the context of the disagreement. But, if this is the case, little is done by way of edification or correction; rather, it just illustrates a dividing line between two people’s ideas and beliefs.

If there is anyone who had the authority to call out every point of disagreement, it was Jesus Christ. God Incarnate, the Truth, walked among mankind two thousand years ago. Amazingly, Jesus Christ exhibited much patience and grace toward sinners. Granted, Jesus was quick to rebuke at times the Pharisees and scribes, and even the disciples, but his overall approach was not like the cultural warrior we see today – wielding a verbal sword to cut down every false notion and word. Rather, firm in truth, he approached mankind (and still does) with patience and grace. The Gospel accounts show us Jesus patiently teaching, asking questions, and listening to the lost. Even with the religious leaders of his day Jesus exercised patience in his rebuke of sin and error. We can learn much be reflecting on what the Gospels teach us about how Jesus interacted with those who disagreed with him, and with those who were in error.

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