Agreeing to disagree is a very powerful tool in solidifying and keeping friendships…if you understand how to do it.
When most people “agree to disagree” it is code for “You are too stubborn to see my point of view, so let’s not talk about it because your stupidity makes me angry…and somehow you perceive a stupidity in me that makes you angry as well. This is what happens when you approach “agree to disagree” without an interest in respecting each other.
The effective and healthy way to “agree to disagree” is to understand what it is you disagree about and (the second part is equally important) that the point on which you disagree is moot.
For example I close friend and I recently ended our friendship over politics. She recently had children and I was alarmed by the extreme libertarian view that she had adopted. I mean extreme…like dissolving police departments and fire departments, doing away with public schools and libraries, shutting down public works like upkeep of public roads and bridges. So we argued for a while…and a while more…and as much as we argued we could never find what it was we disagreed on. We both wanted a safe environment (especially for her children which started the conversation), we both agreed that crime and violence was a problem, we both thought that government was problematic. Somehow for her everything we agreed on meant that government was the problem, and for me everything we agreed upon meant that the government was the solution. Either there was a piece of information or an angle that was missing or one of us was being illogical in how it all fit together. So we agreed to disagree at that point. She agreed that I was an idiot, and I disagreed.
That doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship, does it?
This summer I met a man with the exact same libertarian view as my friend. I was worried about it at first because I was staying with this man for the better part of a week, and I neither wanted to spend the week arguing nor thinking that he was an idiot. The solution was…surprisingly…notto agree to disagree. We were actively interested in each other’s point of view and we respected each other that if they had a view of the world, it must be backed up with some sort of logic. That active desire to understand the other person is what is prohibited by agreeing to disagree.
By the end of the first night we were down to him expressing that without a government, in total anarchy, the goodness of man would show through and men would be forced to help each other.
I felt that the opposite was true: without government, in total anarchy, the baseness of man would show through and without a superior power forcing them to help each other that they would resolve into the chaos of selfishness and grab-what-you-can-if-you-can.
I looked at him and said “So you think people are basically good, and I think that they are basically selfish.”
“I guess that’s about it.”
That’s where we agreed to disagree…once we had both reached understanding of each other.
That’s the irony of agreeing to disagree…you have to push through your own prejudice of thinking that you are right, actively assume the other person is right, figure out why an intelligent person would feel that way, and (and this is the important one) when the other person asks “Why would you think that?” believe that it is because they want to better understand you…because it’s real easy to take that question as an insult.