Disagreement ≠ Lack of Understanding

“Disagreement is something normal.”

Dalai Lama

Seeing the world differently than our fellow humans makes for an exciting existence.  My spouse’s father often says, “difference makes the world go round.” Consumerism is based in part on a pseudo-free market – a stage where individuals present their interpretations of what we need to live our best lives and achieve a more prefect Union. Consider the smartphone. We agree it adds tremendous value to our lives. We disagree on how such value is attained and which smartphone features add the most.

We empower those sharing our views and are enlightened by opposing takes. Debates. Brainstorming. Fact finding missions. Such exchanges of ideas are dominated by individuals with teachable spirits – with the expectation disagreements will strengthen us. As Americans, we pride ourselves in these glorious byproducts of Free Speech – a constitutional right afforded every citizen.

The ideal goes, we have an equal say in how we interpret the world. While an admirable standard, reality shows us equity in expression remains aspirational. If we convincingly and respectfully state our case in how a meal is deliciously prepared or a house is sturdily built – consumers reward us with their patronage. Those disagreeing with our approach toward the same ends while offering equally viable alternatives, may win the business of shared audiences.  Here, disagreement ≠ lack of understanding. It means disagreement.

Some of us believe opposing views – or any form of disagreement – connote nonconformists are idiotic. The internal storyline goes; I am right. Naysayers are without merit. For the smug, the stakes are stratospheric if their viewpoints do not prevail. Agreeing to disagree is not an option. Bothering to respond to alternative trains of thought is preposterous. Existing in spaces where different ideas battle for mainstream adoption is intolerable.

This manifests as mocking laughter to different approaches. Dissidents’ input – in any form – goes unacknowledged. If the self-righteous chooses to respond, their rebuttals are angrily delivered. Oftentimes this form of bullying goes unchecked. It is misread as passion, dedication, and awkwardness versus violence.

Disagreement misconstrued as ignorance voids one’s Constitutionally granted right to disagree. It is a concoction of supremacy, arrogance, and insecurity. Professionally it stifles creativity, crushes morale, increases turnover of actual good employees and lowers organization’s achievement potential to mediocre at best.

I have seen equating disagreement with ignorance backfire mightily. A well accomplished doctor in a key administrative role within a major health system disagreed with a notion presented to him. Instead of seeking understanding around this disagreement, the individual proposing the disagreeable stance foolishly asserted the doctor’s not being a native English speaker was the reason he disagreed. The internal narrative went, the doctor naturalized citizenship makes him cognitively inferior. The idea could not have possibly been shot down because of its impracticality, costliness, or any other logical reasons proposals can be terrible.

In response to such a flagrant misstep, the doctor scolded the out-of-line subordinate as well as informed him English is not his first language, it is the fifth he speaks fluently.

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