Is Civil Disagreement Possible in Today’s Culture?

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By Robin Smith 

Americans tout how progressive our society has become, yet working together and working beyond disagreements are two commitments that are almost extinct. And, yes, it is a commitment to decide to work with others and, if they exist, to move past differences.

Politics is always fingered as the reason Americans are so divided. Without question, significant differences exist across the complete political spectrum, from the most conservative on the right to the most liberal on the left. These differences are emphasized and magnified for the benefit of political interests to divide and conquer. 

But disagreements between individuals and groups are not confined to party politics or heated topics like abortion, gender confusion and whether the money you earn is owed to anyone other than the one who worked to earn it. 

Civil disagreement–those variances and differences of opinion, ideology and reasoning displayed with courteousness and politeness in manner–has been called a dying art.

Sometimes, it’s just easier to understand something by seeing what it is not. In the case of civil disagreement, it’s not winning the case with the loudest voice. It’s not eliminating another’s voice in a discussion because of a perceived difference of opinion or belief of superiority. Civil disagreement is not debate or discussion that includes personal attacks, name-calling or any escalation beyond discussion. 

In 2022, our public discourse is disgusting and bears no resemblance to an advanced society capable of innovation, achievement or forward movement when the Cancel Culture is a favorite tool of many who leverage social media to swarm and bully any who disagree with them. Resolving conflict is needed to avoid escalation and behavioral conditioning that devalues respect, discussion, self-control and collaboration. Put simply, if our families, communities and churches don’t value mutual respect and unity, not uniformity, we are endorsing the opposite through inaction.

Interestingly, our culture spends a vast amount of time devoted to discussions and efforts supporting diversity…unless it is a diverse opinion. Then, the tendency is to suppress and silence the individual possessing the opposing view. If a disagreement needs to be addressed, the wrong approach is to engage in self-serving, escalating behavior that immediately signals no desire to find a solution.

Conflict resolution is a process that essentially involves a mutual commitment to agree to disagree or to compromise, to move past that disagreement and to work together for the good of the cause or community. Very basic principles and actions involved in conflict resolution are listening, identifying common ground and demonstrating mutual respect throughout the process. 

So, back to the first question: Is civil disagreement possible in today’s culture? The answer depends on individuals making the commitment to mutual respect as demonstrated by listening, valuing others’ opinions and looking beyond self-interest and personal rights. A really simple way to say it is to treat others in the manner you want to be treated.