We disagree because we don’t have direct access to the minds of others. I think that’s where disagreements ultimately originate. The only way we could have direct access to someone else’s mind is when we are that person.
This is why we are able to say something like, “It’s difficult for me to explain to you because you didn’t go through what I went through.”
And this is exactly right. Our experiences are unique to us—to our perspective and to the time and space where our experiences happen.
Even if someone else went through a similar experience, that experience is entirely unique on its own—it is never the same—because events happened in a different body and in a different time. Those make experiences unique. No single experience ever happens again.
We can’t escape the following conclusion: each of us is unique in this fundamental way. No one else can have our thoughts and experiences.
We can never transfer these unique thoughts and experiences, we are only able to communicate them through the tools of language—sounds, words, and their meanings.
We cannot directly transfer our thoughts, our reasonings, and our experiences. What we are able to do is to piece together different tools of language—most of which arise from convention—and trust that the person we are talking to creates a mental picture that is an approximation of what we are trying to say. We do not have absolute control of this process. The other person may or may not understand, and if we are trying to make an argument about something, the other person may completely disagree. This is just the fact of life and we will be in a better position if we accept this and not be bothered a lot when communication fails. We can only do so much.
I am someone who has lots of ideas about the world, and I have friends who are the same. But we read different books, we follow different people, and we were raised in different ways. When I have deep conversations about the world with them, we reach a lot of points when I fail to understand what they are trying to say or I disagree on their point of view completely. This happens both ways, and there were times when I felt like an agreement will never be reached. This happens more often than I wish, but for me, it is a testament to the uniqueness of each and everyone—something I sincerely believe.
Such scenarios do not just happen in intellectual conversations. They happen within the family and out there in public life. When a family member refuses to talk for fear that her perspective would be misunderstood or when politicians bicker at each other in national TV, this fact of life is in full display.
I find that there are two attitudes in addressing situations of disagreements:
- We could attack and hate the person behind the conflicting opinion or
- We accept the disagreement and continue to coexist—and even care about—the other person.
When I saw Walden Bello go at it with a representative of Anakbayan in live national TV, which was followed by this, I saw two people representing two sides who chose to act according to the first attitude I mentioned. When I learned about how an activist gifted a hand-made handkerchief to a politician from the other side of an issue, in order to start a conversation with her, I saw the second attitude.
I don’t want to label either of the two approaches as either good or bad. I want to objectively judge which of the two approaches give us the result that we are looking for.
For me, in a world where disagreements happen more than agreements, I think cultivating peaceful, nonviolent coexistence with those who disagree with us is ultimately a more effective strategy of living. It accepts that disagreement is a fact of life and goes with it rather than use force to change what is unchangeable.
Ultimately, putting ourselves intentionally in situations where we come face-to-face with disagreements—with people who think differently—make us a better person. Engaging in difficult conversations make us aware of three important things:
- How it feels like to be in such situations,
- How we are inclined to react to such situations, and
- The weaknesses and loopholes in our own thinking, way of communicating, and overall attitude in navigating differences.
Being aware of these three things within the context of a face-to-face disagreement with another person is great training.
- When I confront my emotions during disagreements, I become accustomed to them.
- Seeing my initial reaction to disagreement informs whether I tend to attack someone or listen with the intention of peaceful coexistence.
- Noticing the loopholes in my own thinking encourages me to research more, thus getting closer to what is true.
No. You don’t have to agree with another person’s point of view. In fact, you should never agree to someone if you know what he is telling isn’t true. But you don’t have to go to a verbal or, worse, physical tussle with that person.
Peaceful coexistence is possible. It always is.