I think it depends on how long ago you stopped listening?
I think it’s a deceptive phrase. When people say they’ll agree to disagree, they almost always mean ‘there is no way in hell I’m going to agree with you, but I am too polite to call you the incorrect piece of shit I think you are’.
I mean, I can understand the necessity of an escape valve for that kind of situation, there are times when an argument will only escalate into rude words or violence. I’m pretty sure I’ve used it in that context.
What bothers me is that it’s also a way of saying ‘I don’t want to learn anything from you’.
It’s a tricky position to maintain, to keep calm in the face of those whose opinions differ from yours. To listen carefully and understand how someone’s mind works and how they hit their conclusions. It’s not just difficult because it’s sometimes tricky to not slap someone or call them a pillock. One of the real difficulties is that it can be hard to hold on to your own deeply held beliefs in the face of even an ‘unreasonable’ onslaught.
But maintaining open minded flexibility doesn’t mean having weak morals or losing solidity. There is strength in openness. And there’s much more chance that you’re close to something that is actually right if you take on the arguments that come up against you.
And once you’ve agreed to disagree, you’re letting the other idea escape criticism just as much as you are escaping with yours.
On the other hand, the truth is that some things are a matter of opinion.
It doesn’t matter how dreadful Coldplay are (from an objective point of view, with the possible exception of the early single Shiver) there is still someone (apparently lots of people) who think that they make good music.
And really, on certain aesthetic points, the disagreement is probably a positive thing.
Sure, maybe I’d rather we save the carbon emissions concommitant in the existence and publishing of Coldplay’s music, but actually, it’s important that there’s variety in these things.
Without different opinions, different beliefs and different ways of seeing the world. Everyone would be boring and frozen and tired and dull.
A bit like Coldplay.
But I’m flogging an obvious horse there.
So there needs to be a compromise. We need to allow a variety of points of view, but we also need to make sure that people listen. People need to learn and empathise and understand. If there’s anything that’s been central to the ideas I’ve tried to understand on this blog, it’s that learning and understanding and empathy can make us (and by inference the world) better.
We can’t just agree to disagree, but we need to accept that people are different.
We need to agree to learn from our disagreements. We need to agree what we can agree on, and agree to work out what separates from there.
We need to agree to listen.
Illustration by Lucy.