Reality Check: Agreements Among Friends

My old friend passed away. After a century of life, he’d reached his natural end. While our friendship was not so very old; it spanned only about a decade, it had huge influence on me. It was a special friendship, based completely on thinking—on ideas, curiosity, and animated discussions.
No topic was out of bounds for us. We talked about human nature, learning, economics, the weather, and even the untouchable topics of politics and religion. The whole gamut was fair game.
We didn’t always agree. Actually, to be completely honest, we approached many topics from pretty much opposite perspectives.
However, we genuinely liked, and perhaps more importantly, respected each other. Maybe the liking was a result of the respect; it’s hard to be sure which came first.
A distinguishing feature of this friendship was that both of us genuinely wanted to understand the other’s viewpoint. How did you come to your conclusion? Why do you see an issue in this way?
Neither of us had the goal of changing the other. Nor did we have any deep-seated wish to prove the other wrong. It was really an exploration of understanding, to learn how and why others see something differently.
There was a lot of laughter in our discussions. Learning is fun anyway, and when you have the opportunity to learn—providing that both parties have good will toward the other—then exploring what makes them tick can be both informative and hilarious.
If we only hang out with people who agree with us, then we get a comforting, but incomplete, view of the world. When everyone we know agrees with us, we can develop the illusion that we must be right!
Further, if we only seek out or get exposed to commentators or social influencers who reinforce what we already believe, then we may have a tendency to view “the others”—those who are not like us or who don’t agree with us—with horror and disbelief. Where does that lead? Suspicion, mistrust, disdain, and worse.
However, when we are open to different viewpoints, we may learn that other intelligent people share with us similar big picture goals but disagree on how to achieve them. We learn that other people can see exactly the same events, the same news, the same results as we do, but through a different viewpoint. Thus, they derive quite different meanings and draw different conclusions than we do.
A friendship of differences can teach us about ourselves, too. We learn as we try to articulate positions that seem to go without saying, but in fact, do need saying. When we are pressed on what we really believe, we begin to learn what we really believe.
Discussions, or disputes, often include labeling the other side. A label essentially sets up a filter through which everything else flows. When we start by applying a derogatory label to a group or an individual, that doesn’t bode well for a respectful discussion, does it?
How do you recognize that? Here’s a test: If the same words were spoken by someone you admire or agree with, would you perceive those words differently?
While I doubt that I ever changed my friend’s mind on any significant issue, we weren’t labels to each other. Our views about people on “the other side” shifted as we became friends.
Whenever he said, “I’ll agree with you on that,” I knew I’d finally reached the clarity that I strive for. Likewise, I gained new perspective as I learned how someone of such character could have viewpoints so different from mine.
I miss those discussions. But I am forever grateful for this friend who taught me so much about myself. Thank you, Frank.
Have you ever learned about yourself through disagreement?

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