We are losing our willingness and ability to disagree with each other. Development toward a better self, a better community, largely depends upon the outcome of conversations that value and express disagreement. When we cease to challenge and listen to each other, we have signalled that self-protection and personal promotion are more important than learning and development. Being right is more important than being open to change. Without a willingness to be vulnerable there is no disagreement, and therefore no development.
Self-protection can lead to the habit and problem of being nice, rather than kind. A nice person doesn’t tell me my fly is down. A nice person doesn’t thoughtfully tell me I am off base. A nice person is concerned about his own safety, not my effectiveness and growth as a person. A nice person wants to stay safe within the status quo.
Our willingness and capability to allow, listen to, and respond to differing perspectives on how others see and experience us, sets the table for us to edit our internal stories (beliefs, assumptions, habits, mental models) to be more congruent with reality. Those stories determine how we behave. My capacity for adapting my behaviour to be more useful, requires you disagreeing with its current level of usefulness. Your kindness and courage allow you to call out what isn’t working. You will do that if you know it will be appreciated and seriously considered. A gesture of kindness is having the courage to tell me my fly is down, or my behaviour is off base. An act of kindness has the other’s best interests in mind.
We are losing the capacity to disagree thoughtfully and lovingly. On the one hand we remain quiet (and safe) even if we disagree with what has been said or happened. We live in fear of being cancelled and shunned, for challenging the status quo. On the other hand, we can be so invested with being right we scream down the disagreement if it has been voiced. Not because what has been said is wrong, but because it threatens our sense of safe identity. Either way, nothing develops or evolves into a more useful orientation to reality and the common good.
We need to make it safe and desirable for our marriages, our friendships, and our executive teams to disagree. In the absence of the vulnerable and courageous voice of disagreement, we end up with stagnated growth and diminished vitality.