Fear Of Whales

Tales of a reluctant minister

Dissagreement and Understanding

with 2 comments

I’ve found myself frustrated lately by a number of discussions that were more heated than they needed to be. If fact, they were more existent than they needed to be, they could have just as easily not happened at all! So even though you guys are not the problem I’m writing the blog in the hopes of making the world a slightly better place, by avoiding needless arguments with the help of a very simple distinction.

There is a difference between “I don’t understand” and “I disagree”

It seems simple, but I keep getting into these arguments with people I agree with who don’t understand something I say, so they argue with me until they do understand. Don’t do that!

And you can’t do both either. In order to disagree with a statement, you have to understand it. If I made the claim that “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” and you wanted to say “No they don’t” You would have to be able to affirm in your head that you know what it is I intended to mean by that statement, You know it is not correct, and you are prepared to tell me why not. If you don’t understand, you really have no choice bit to reserve judgment until you do.

Sometimes you understand partially. and the part you do understand is enough to disagree with. The statement “An echidna would make an excellent pet for you” might be something you disagree with, even without knowing what a echidna is, provided you don’t like pets for instance.

Sometimes you’ll be tempted to fill in the gaps in your own understanding. That’s okay, we all take shortcuts in colloquial speech, and nobody wants to be the dumb one who “doesn’t get it” But do yourself and the speaker a favor and assume you agree with them as your fill those gaps in. For some reason I see people who misunderstand that, so they assume their opponent is saying something wrong they’ve heard before and begins to argue with them on that basis. That’s really annoying, and really presumptuous. To assume you know what a person actually meant, and not only that, but you also know it’s wrong.

So really then. Debate is necessarily respectful. Because disagreement is an act of respect. In order to disagree with you I need to understand what your argument means, and think it sounds reasonable, if I didn’t think it sounded like something you would say on purpose I’d have to assume I misunderstood and withhold judgment until I had something to disagree with that made sense. So the phrase “I won’t even dignify that with a response” really means something, because responses do dignify ideas.

Meanwhile when some Hippi tells you something like “We are everything and in everything” there’s really not much to say other than “How interesting, and by ‘we’ you mean….’everything’…okay, go on”


Written by RyanGaffney

March 13, 2011 at 4:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I disagree with you, sir!

    Oh, wait. Maybe I should read the whole thing before jumping in…


    March 15, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    • You should.

      I’m not Rob Bell after all…


      March 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

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