By Clarke Price, CAE
When did we lose the ability to agree to disagree?
As I observe the goings on (some might say histrionics) in Washington, and particularly among those who are seeking the Republican nomination for president, it seems that the parties can’t simply agree that they have different perspectives and don’t agree. Lately, any disagreement seems to immediately be followed with something bordering on thermonuclear war to discredit the other party and prove that they’re either wrong or stupid. That approach never leads to constructive dialogue. The parties simply dig in and either pout or proclaim to all that they’re right and the other party is wrong. Saying “we simply disagree” or “we have different perspectives on this issue” has been lost in Washington, and in society!
Lately I’m also experiencing this notion that the opponent has to be proven to be wrong as we’re working on a movement related to streamlining Ohio’s municipal taxation systems. Those who don’t think there’s anything wrong with the current system of almost 600 municipalities applying different definitions, different forms and different rules to the challenge of complying with local taxes are engaging in a campaign to discredit our organization for simply raising the issue of the need for common sense and streamlined processes. The level of mischaracterization of our position, and our motivation, that’s going on today is nothing short of amazing. Rather than engage in constructive dialogue, we’re left with dueling arguments about hidden agendas, selfish motivations and ridiculous rhetoric. But that’s what we accept as the norm in the political process today. We can’t simply disagree and leave it to the legislators to consider the alternative sides and then make a decision. No . . . the objective is to bury the opposition, regardless of whether the claims being made are true.
Plus, I’m finding it’s not just Washington or the Ohio Statehouse that has this problem. More and more frequently, I find that even the simplest discussion – and disagreement – can lead to a polarized discussion and the same “you’re an idiot” type of response. Simple disagreements about the merits of anything (and I’m not talking about conversations related to clearly controversial issues like social values, religion, etc.) can lead to endless arguments (not intelligent debate) and entrenched attitudes that force us apart. Last summer, I was playing golf with a colleague and we started talking about an issue that affected both of us. After nine holes of endless haranguing on the issue, I finally decided that I couldn’t take it any longer and decided I had to get out of the golf cart. I wasn’t going to subject myself to another nine holes of him continually arguing to prove to me that my view was wrong (or have me admit that I was simply too stupid to understand that he was right). I simply disagreed and was willing to say “let’s move to another subject,” but he was relentless. So I took the easy alternative and got out of the cart. And that was annoying because I normally enjoy the time I spend with this person. But in this instance, it apparently wasn’t meant to be.
When did society change? When did the objective become to win the discussion at all costs, rather than to simply engage in a civilized conversation —– that could end with the parties simply agreeing to disagree? I hate to say, “I long for the old days,” but in this instance, that’s exactly how I feel. cp