Agree to Disagree

I have been so disheartened by how much this election has divided us as a nation. Posts like this one make me sad (although I have nothing against the author, who was very brave to share her point of view), because it really grieves me that people are basing their opinion of a person on the candidate he or she supports- or in my case, is even thinking about supporting.

- Lindsay Ferrier, “The Lesser of Two Evils”

When people say that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in public, it’s all I can do not to pick the kind of fight people are trying to avoid with their advice.  Do we really believe that it’s better to be quietly ignorant of two huge, important things that certainly will affect our lives than to risk someone being a jerk to us?  Do we honestly think that our views of the nature of the universe are unimportant enough to allow them to be challenged?  Are we comfortable handing over power to a government we then won’t discuss in the company of others?

Here’s the thing.  We don’t like being disagreed with, and we like even less when a disagreement causes others to turn against us.  This is why people avoid discussions of inflammatory topics.  Losing a friend over a political or religious affiliation seems too high a price to pay for opening one’s mouth.  I’m sympathetic to their concerns, because if you’ve argued yourself into hating a once good friend you have likely done something wrong.  Civility in debate is something you gain with experience, though, and having a violent reaction to disagreement is more likely when you avoid them at all costs.

Lindsay Farrier, who writes the blog Suburban Turmoil, recently wrote about her reaction to the second presidential debate, which she attended as a member of the press.  In it, she stated how the debate changed her feelings on the election and on which candidate she’d be supporting.  Unsurprisingly, her post drew quite a reaction from her readers, some less civil than others.

Strike that.  Ferrier later wrote, “a surprising number of comments were downright hostile,” so perhaps I’m just used to the kind of reaction a statement of any preference of any kind made on the Internet will elicit. After saying something on reddit, if I don’t get accused of an ad hominem attack or compared to Hitler, I consider it a mild day in the tubes.

That said, I think Ferrier’s post does get to the core of why people are so cautious about bringing up politics or religion in public.  I quoted the line above, but I want to repeat it.  It’s important.  Ferrier says that it “really grieves me that people are basing their opinion of a person on the candidate he or she supports- or in my case, is even thinking about supporting.”  Though I commend her for her own openness to discussion on this topic, I think the reason we avoid bringing up politics or religion in public can be found in that statement.  We don’t want people to look at us differently over something we’ve decided is not a core part of who we are.

But it is.

It does all of us a disservice to suggest that who gets our vote or what deity does or does not get our allegiance says nothing important about our values and priorities.  Voting isn’t – or at least, it shouldn’t be – the equivalent of whether you prefer Coke or Pepsi.  How you think your tax dollars should be spent, who you think we should be at war with (if anyone), where the responsibility for our sick belongs, whether people should be incarcerated for consuming psychoactive substances; these should never be boiled down to some simple matter of opinion.  These are important issues, and your opinion on them says a lot about who you are as a person.

If you are a devout Christian, and you say that you believe literally in the words of the Bible, does that mean you also believe homosexuals should be stoned?  If so, is it really unfair for me to think less of you as a person for believing that?

If you support a candidate based on the recriminalization of abortion, but believe in the continuation of the death penalty, am I expected to ignore the blatant contradiction in an effort to agree to disagree?  If you supported the end of both, perhaps, but if my problem is that you hold two contradictory values that are largely punitive to the underprivileged, how does that not affect my view of what your moral priorities are?

I think the difference is in how important you feel your vote is.  If you believe that politics is as important to your life as a reality show, that the ambiguity of the choice between candidates – none of whom represent pure evil or undiluted good – makes the decision pointless, or that the concept of democracy is worthy without the passionate exercise of it, then I suppose the tying of political choice to a person’s quality of character seems silly to you.

If you’re like me, and you believe that the choice you’ve been given in this nation is the chance – however small – to see the things in which you believe acted out across the nation, it’s impossible not to connect your choice of candidate to your character.  I’m not suggesting that supporting a candidate I consider toxic makes you a terrible person.  I’m merely saying that if democracy means anything at all, then your vote should be representative of your own moral and ethical beliefs, and I should be able to make a character judgment based on it.

Let me put it another way.

Do I believe that someone who attends a church I take issue with is evil? Absolutely not.

Do I lose all respect for someone for disagreeing with me politically?  Of course not.

Would I seek to end a friendship simply over a political or religious difference?  Not a chance.

Do someone’s political views and priorities, as evidenced by their choice of candidate, affect my opinion of someone?  Yes.  They absolutely do.

I expect that my friends do this to me as well, and I’m fine with that.  There’s a reason I talk openly about politics and religion on this blog.  I believe my opinions and views on these subjects are reflective of who I am and what I stand for.  I’m comfortable with someone making a character judgment based on my political affiliations, and I open to being challenged or even judged based on them.  If someone wants to think less of me because they honestly feel my vote represents a flaw in my character, I can accept that.

It helps if you’re prepared to back it up.  Then we can talk about it, and we might even find we have common ground we didn’t expect.  We might discover that we’re disappointed in someone in one way, but respect them in another.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  I can be disappointed that your economic beliefs are hostile to the poor while respecting your advocacy to improve the lives of disabled children.  I can be appalled at your church’s intolerance of homosexuals while being pleased that its youth group gives kids a place to be safe once a week. Life is like that.  We’re all lesser evils when you get right down to it.

Or we could agree to disagree, which is what got us here in the first place.  We could pretend our differences in beliefs should not be discussed, should be held back and privately protected.  Or worse, revealed without discussion and then wheeled back into the garage after taking them for a spin around the block.

What do you think it says about our political and religious views when you think we shouldn’t talk about them?  That we’re different, right?  That we are so different that my views and your view can only clash without purpose should they be released into the same room.  Perhaps, even, that I’m inherently better than you and that the actual discussion of our ideas is a waste of time.

I’ve had enough of agreeing to disagree.  I think it’s time to learn to just disagree.  We can do it without violence and without rage if we spend some time learning how.

I’d rather you think less of me than not have heard from me at all.

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