Category Archives: Agreeing to Disagree

On Being Impressionable

The focus of my blog, and my hope, is to get more people engaging in thoughtful, civil discourse. I sometimes wonder if I am just too far out there in that hope.

lazy-babyAre we too lazy?

One of the challenges is that it takes effort to engage thoroughly and thoughtfully. Going by our gut is so much easier. And as I have stated in an earlier post, this is further undermined by the common practice of reacting instead of responding.

Stress expression on little blond kid's faceA lot of the “news” today is not about conveying facts for us to evaluate. It is about playing to our emotions. A week or so ago, I came across the item below (excerpted from an article (here) which talks about impressionability (emphasis mine):

“Voters are basically lazy,” one Nixon media adviser wrote. “Reason requires a high degree of discipline, of concentration; impression is easier. Reason pushes the viewer back, it assaults him, it demands that he agree or disagree; impression can envelop him, invite him in, without making an intellectual demand…. When we argue with him, we… seek to engage his intellect…. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable….” Nixon’s people hired advertising executive Harry Treleaven, who believed the new medium of television had changed the nature of politics. For him, politicians were no longer policy wonks; they were actors with a narrative.

Under Treleaven, Nixon’s people ignored policy positions and instead used television to create a candidate with a simple message: America was on the brink of disaster, and only Nixon could save it. They hired a brilliant young photographer to put together a series of television ads from stock photographs strung together to create a sense of doom; at the end a voice intoned “Nixon” over an iconic image of the nation. At the end of every ad ran the words: “Vote like your whole world depended on it.”

While the source article is tilted at (against) a particular political party, the cornerstone concept I am pointing to goes well beyond politics or parties. I do not want to make this a partisan thing.

Further on, in the same article, they show a path from this earlier thinking, to the philosophy and M.O. of one news organization today – though others have adopted this strategy too. If you measure success as the number of subscribers or followers, as is normal for the media, then this is a successful formula. If you measure it on how accurately informed the viewership is, then it is far from successful. Much of that viewership, regardless of the source channel, is misinformed (and misled) through, either, cherry-picked subsets of data, opinion substituting for fact, or with emotionally appealing falsehoods. And through repetition the viewership begins to accept the impressions cast by those “news sources” as truths. Using the definition right out of a dictionary, this should be labeled propaganda (not news).

Soundbyte PsychologyThe sound-bite mindset

We have become accustomed to the abbreviated form. It is all around us. Catchy advertising and campaign slogans that stick with us. One-hundred and forty byte “statements” in the form of tweets (yes, I tweet too.) Text messages, with oh so many abbreviations, and sometimes in place of more expansive, face-to-face conversations. When we actually pick up a newspaper or magazine, how often do we read the highlights, the call-outs, just the captions under the pictures, and not the full articles? We want things quick and easy. I confess, too often, and too impatiently, I ask people to “net it out” for me.

A joke made by Woody Allen years ago – fits the situation today:

“I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

I spent a handful of years in marketing and learned about creating “tag lines” (short hand for our key message) and “elevator pitches” (intended to get your fundamental point across as concisely as possible), and the general art of spin. A former colleague used the phrase “fiction with conviction” as both a critique of the discipline of marketing and a description – ironically a sound-bite in itself. When building marketing material, we used a method where you started by defining the one thing you really want the audience to take away, and build out from there. You build out supporting arguments – but not too many. You add specific images to reinforce. You tighten it up, keep it brief, because you want to keep their attention. You hope they remember much of what you put together. But you count on them retaining the core thought or position. Trying to convey some facts, but at a minimum, focusing on leaving an impression. I understand the power of this method.

Distorted presentation with emotional appeal

God and Fence Shaded
Not a caged puppy after all.

It is not just the main-stream media or marketers either. The pervasiveness of the internet, ready access to gadgets to take pictures and video, simple editing tools, allow almost anyone to “publish” content. My blog is certainly an example. Because of this, lots of misinformation is widely available. And “spun” misinformation gets attention and sometimes a significant following.

Just last week, my son sent me a link to a post he said “proved his point” about negative repercussions in the faith community from the recent same-sex-marriage decision by the Supreme Court. The post was about a clergyman being sent to prison for not performing a same-sex wedding. I told him I would look at it later, and asked him if he knew if it was a credible source. He had assumed it was legitimate. I discovered it was a hoax. I shared those findings with him and we talked about the implications of folks reacting without verifying.

Pinochio NoseThen shortly after that, a highly misrepresentative, heavily edited 8 minute video, surfaced – slamming Planned Parenthood. It gained a lot of attention for its provocative headline and premise. It was a very effective in its’ deception. Because of scrutiny and public pressure, the whole 100 plus minutes of raw video were released. From inspection of this raw footage, by multiple groups, it was determined that many of the clips in the edited version were used wholly out of context, and others portions of the edited video actually represented the complete opposite of the truth, of what was said and meant.

Yes we (may) have busy lives and it is convenient to get the synopsis. But have we become too accustomed to this shorthand? I think we have. Can’t we set aside a little time to look a little deeper into important matters? I think we can. I hope we do.

Multiple Issues
Various issues to evaluate

Issue by issue

Stealing a comment I heard on a radio show, when asked which way do I lean (politically), I respond “on what issue?” (yes, I get the irony of echoing the external source). FYI – I have been registered as an independent my entire voting life.

I think the increasing feeling of polarization in our country, is based on the false premise that we need to subscribe to, to lean, right or left, to choose a side. There seems less tolerance for agreeing-to-disagree.  I see this as just another form of convenience, simplification. We can quickly slot another into the group of those we like (us) or those we dislike (them) based on how they lean. And, we probably find it easier to slot ourselves into a group, than to define our views issue-by-issue.

More independents
Reproduced from CNN Graphic

Many polls , of late, suggest that an increasing portion of Americans are identifying as independents (rather than Democrat or Republican). I find that encouraging. I hope some portion of that is attributable to folks wanting to exercise personal judgment per issue, rather than voting the party line.



Am I too far out there in my expressed hope? You’ll have to decide for yourself. Since I am an optimist, and I believe we can be rational creatures, I will continue to post. I will encourage people to look beyond the sound-bite, and not to be too impressionable.
I will encourage people to put in some effort, to engage others, to verify, to adjust and expand what they know, and to decide for themselves.

Minion-ReadingFinally, if you have read all the way through this post to this sentence, it shows you exerted effort and expended time trying to understand someone else’s point of view. Encouraging – Thank you for doing so.


Agreeing to Disagree

I see allowing for the possibility of agreeing-to-disagree, as an essential component in the realm of civil discourse. Let me frame what I mean by agreeing-to-disagree. I believe the conclusion of a healthy, possibly energetic, but respectful, exchange will be:

  1. agree disagree reconveneWe come to an agreement, which could include compromises – and the exchange is concluded.
  2. We agree to disagree, allowing the other their own opinion – and the exchange is concluded.
  3. We agree to reconvene, and work toward conclusion – which is either 1 or 2.

Let me clarify that when I suggest an exchange is concluded (above) that does not necessarily mean the subject is closed or finalized (though it could). I submit it means one topic or segment, among one or more, has been exercised to its’ conclusion.

Using that framework, a few questions to get thoughts flowing:

  1. Generally, how do you feel about the subject?
  2. Are you OK with agreeing-to-disagree with someone?
  3. Do you think it is an unworthy compromise, or copping-out?
  4. Currently, in personal exchanges and larger social contexts, do you think it is happening:
    • too seldom?
    • too often?
    • often enough?

The answer to that last question, certainly depends on where you stand on the ones preceding it.

To make my own positions clear: I think it is very important; I am OK with it; it is not copping out; and it is happening too seldom.

Certainly, there are some situations where it is easier to incorporate than others. But I submit that we ought to keep it in play as a standard feature of dialog, as much as possible.

I think the ability to agree-to-disagree is crucial to successful, civil discourse, and the advancement of relationships and causes. The importance of spirited exchange, the ability to get to a conclusion, and the fact that I think this occurs too infrequently, are among the reasons I started this blog. I hope to spur more civil discourse.

founding fathers debateHistorical Precedent

I hold a deep seated belief in the importance of healthy debate. It was the cornerstone of how this country, its constitution, was established – complex debates, between men of deep conviction and differing views, on the structure of individual rights and government. All those debates resulted in deeply-considered compromises. And by necessity, there would be times separate groups would end up agreeing-to-disagree.

I think the freedom of speech portion of the first amendment was about more than protecting thought and speech. It was also about encouraging them, encouraging continued healthy debate – in order to advance our society. The founding fathers, intentionally or unintentionally, modeled the behavior (certainly not flawlessly). And I think they had faith that their inheritors, citizens and not just successive political representatives, could, and would, follow the example.

It is a mistake to assume this is a special process (following steps 1 – 3) reserved only for the founding of nations or lofty undertakings. It is wholly applicable to one-on-one interactions between friends, family members, and colleagues. Wholly applicable, as long as you are amenable to the possibility that conclusion of a discussion or argument might mean agreeing to disagree.

In this post, I do not intend to cover the points of those who subscribe to the more polar premise that arguments are either won or lost. Some will be won or lost. Many will yield compromises. Many could allow for agreeing-to-disagree. I do intend to cover those ideas more expansively in a successive post.


6 or 9In emphasizing the importance of including the option to agree-to-disagree, I’m not suggesting over-willingness to surrender your position, nor taking a shortcut past thorough exploration of ideas. Those who know me well, know how enthusiastically I can go after making a point. I sometimes push hard, and with myriad supporting arguments, to make my ideas and position clear. I do so, understanding that my counterpart (I hesitate to use the word opponent) has the same right to argue the counterpoint(s) with equal vigor. I feel I am obliged, a word I generally dislike, to hear them out as I would have them hear me out. I do so, because I know they have the right to hold, and hold to, an opinion different from mine. I do so, because I know I can gain from the exchange. I do so, knowing it is a path to reaching a conclusion as described above. That conclusion may well end up being agreeing-to-disagree. And if that is where we conclude, we can go our separate ways (or not). I’m OK with that.

Let’s be Civil

My hope in starting this blog, is to share ideas in the areas of civil discourse and a more rational approach to discussing and working through issues. Let me say, I make no claim to be an expert. I intend to share my opinions (distinguishable from edicts and maxims) and hope to solicit other perspectives. Thus the name of the site / blog — the plural was meant to include varying perspectives from multiple sources. From multiple perspectives we can generate new or refined approaches – or at a minimum, additional insights. I hope to spur dialogs – and even dialogs about having rational dialogs.  I expect the blog/site to morph  and grow over time, and to include various topics.

Some Initial Thoughts

I think the notion of civil discourse is fading from our society. A number of the hallmarks of civil discourse seem to be missing from a lot of our exchanges. I intend to do posts on various facets, posing some ideas and alternatives for consideration. I will highlight a couple thoughts here — just to get started.

Topping the list is being civil (or not). It seems we are more prone now, than in the past, to get off-topic and into attack mode. And we do so all too quickly.  There is an awful lot of name calling, blaming, and elevated emotions in place of connecting with the humanity in the other(s) and/or actually solving a problem.

A close second is a missing willingness to “agree to disagree.” In my opinion, and I do not think I am alone, polarization is growing. Not just in politics, but in people’s individual positions and approaches. I see an awful lot of win-or-lose thinking taking place. “Conclusion” of an argument, a civil one, used to mean: 1) coming to an agreement, which may include compromise; 2) agreeing to disagree, or 3) deferring with a commitment to reconvene in order to get to 1 or 2. Option 2 bespeaks tolerance, and a lack of it denotes the opposite. Perhaps tolerance is too uncomfortable.

Third, and core to all of this, is a diminished rationality in our approach. We are absolutely entitled to our feelings. We are emotional creatures. Along with that, we possess the ability to pause and organize our thoughts, then respond, instead of simply reacting. Some may disagree – saying reactions are “only natural” and indeed reacting is natural and common. Charged reactions increase the likelihood of a counter-reaction – and a spiraling escalation that is not productive. We can overcome the knee-jerk reactivity with mindfulness and practice.  In doing so, we can improve the odds of a successful exchange and reaching a conclusion  — as defined above.

I think that is a fair start.

More in my next post.