Disagree, Denounce, Divide

Lies We Believe About Ourselves and Others

Day Three: Disagree, Denounce, Divide

To continue our conversation from yesterday on being right, there are a two key ways to assert our correctness to those around us. We can debate or we can discuss. The key difference between the two has to do with the motivation. With a debate, someone has to win. With discussions, you get to assert an opinion and listen to one without needing to object. You get to ask questions and understand a point of view that’s different than yours.

I’m not ignorant. There are a host of issues that you, even on your best behavior, you can’t listen to an opposite opinion of. Maybe you’ve survived something and aren’t quite ready to hear a dismissal of something personal. Maybe your existence is wrapped up in it. Maybe you just like to fan the flames a little bit and feel some heat. Regardless, we can’t always discuss when we have the urge to debate. Something triggers us into a knee-jerk reaction and we say some things we might, but probably won’t, regret. I’ve been there (on more than one occasion). This is a blog series about humanness. Your mess-ups and rough edges are celebrated here.


I do wonder, though, how many times we debate when we’d be fine discussing. Posting angry comments on public stories and private friends statuses. Ranting and carrying on. Looking for ways to be offended and offensive.

I stopped debating (most of the time…) when I realized no one cared about what I had to say. I would spend hours crafting a perfect, bulletproof argument full of wisdom and heart, and then I’d get a response like “Okay liberal” and then a two sentence argument that had nothing to do with what I was talking about. Why, I asked, was I going through all this effort for nothing? Obviously, they were too stupid to interact with me. And I hated feeling like that, giving up on someone else’s perspective and asserting my own way of doing things.

I started entering into more conversations with friends who thought differently than I. After the 2016 election, I had a multiple weeks long conversation with an old friend. She shared that she felt fear, anxiety, nausea, when Obama was declared the winner – the same feelings I felt when Trump was declared. Every part of me wanted me to reject everything she was saying. She was ludicrous, annoying, baiting me. But as soon I stepped back and listened to what she was telling me, I started to understand it.

And let me be clear: I didn’t suddenly hate Obama and love Trump. I wasn’t grateful for Trump’s presidency over night. I’m still not. I still think it’s silly to think Trump is a good President or a good man. Discussion doesn’t lead to conversion. When I say I understood, I mean I didn’t lose faith in humanity. I didn’t “get” her perspective, but I started to understand why she thought the way she did, and began to see the humanity that still lived in her.

I’ve lost several readers in saying that – saying that I saw the humanity in a Trump supporter. But I did and I do. When you have conversations with people, and not conversions, when you have discussions and not debates, the heavy weight of being right starts to fall away. You allow people to be silly and stupid, ignorant and hateful but you show up and listen to them anyway. And slowly, overtime, you start to understand that no one is one thing. That people’s experiences shape them into the people they are and the things they say.

The world only looks insane if you’re trying to conquer it. When you step back and exist in it, I promise things will make a little more sense. It won’t make it less frustrating or more digestible, but you will begin to unpack the reasons the world functions the way it does. You’ll start to reject the easy answer and hold the paradox of existence more capably.

Few people are interested in discussing. I’ve learned that after countless typings of “I’m not debating you” or “I’m not arguing – I genuinely want to know more about you and why you think this way.” But for the few people who you can break through, I promise the both of you will have powerful, life changing experiences.

My least favorite saying is don’t talk about religion or politics with friends. We’re heading into Thanksgiving, a holiday famous for family feuds about politics and hatred. Would those conversations look differently if your uncle wasn’t trying to win? If you all agreed no one’s opinion would be changed?

There’s profundity in being human with humans. It only comes when we’re courageous enough to be a bit uncomfortable and to put ourselves in a position to be wrong.


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