I recently heard a news commentator say, “We’ve lost the ability to disagree.”
The perceptive 1964 musical Fiddler on the Roof examines issues like tradition and the mixing of competing values; the place of love in long term marriages, and the repression of Jews. Characters are forced to examine the views of outsiders, and how their own views need to change and accommodate – often to compromise long held beliefs.
“On the one hand,” reflects Reb-Tevye, in several monologues, “[This is how I see it …] But on the other hand, …” On the last occasion, his “other hand” comparison was (and shouted in despair), “There is no other hand!” It was just too much to ask. He can’t bring himself to accommodate, and he banishes his daughter from his house forever, at heart-breaking cost.
What would you do if your (Jewish?) daughter wanted to marry a gentile communist activist, or a repressive Russian soldier? On the one hand, you wish for nothing more than your daughter’s happiness. On the other hand, you might find yourself totally opposed to what her suitor stands for, and his lifestyle, and doubt the young couple’s ability to live together successfully.
Is there ever a third hand?
Questions without answers! Such is rhetoric. But such competing values occur all over our world, especially in the online universe. [Not so much in the public media, because the public media line seems to coalesce into an agreed, politically correct stream – that sells newspapers. They no longer seem to debate all sides.]
But we, the middle people, need to learn to discern ‘other hands’, choose accommodations or compromises, and disagree gracefully and graciously. In public. Unseduced by conspiracy theories. And without fear of being banished forever.
Proposition: Let’s say I believe strongly in Alpha. You believe as strongly in Beta.
You and I disagree, obviously, even to the point of row. We argue, debate … You begin to realise (perhaps through the strident case I make, or perhaps through wider reading and listening) that most of the world believes Alpha! Your Beta is unpopular, in some quarters despised and vilified. Maybe even you alone hold the Beta view. What are you going to do?
More importantly, what am I going to do? I smugly hold the higher – interpret, more populist – ground. I can rubbish Beta. I can rubbish you. I can humiliate you publicly. Will I?
I might hope that you come round to Alpha. I might try to forcefully persuade you.
But the imperative is that I don’t scorn you, or, worse, banish you forever. I might actually consider your Beta. The majority is not always right. (Arguably, it is seldom right.) Or maybe there’s a ‘third hand’! A common ground, and point we can agree on. And points we can agree to disagree on. With respect.
The love principle guiding us is more important than the (often trivial) black-white-grey principle we disagree on.
Give us public debate without rancour or mutual destruction. Give us respectful, if heated, discourse – online, in the media, and with our friends and neighbours – even in our families. Give us unresentful and reasoned peace, above all difference.
Let us get better at disagreeing.