15 February 2010

Thought for the Day

To "agree to disagree" means "I understand and respect your point of view, but I still disagree." Which happens when everyone knows what everyone else thinks and why, and also knows that everyone else knows what they think. Also, that part about respect is kind of key.

This is not the same thing as "Let's just talk about something else now."


Eric said...

I disagree.

Heh, I just wanted to write that.

But seriously: this is where online communications are missing those crucial verbal cues, because I think "agree to disagree" may mean either your first definition or, "Let's just talk about something else now." It can even mean, "Bored now. Shut up." In meatspaces, you'd have the verbal cues. Online, you might have context, sometimes not.

And sometimes, "Let's agree to disagree" may mean that the speaker/writer respects the person and not the point-of-view, which is an entirely different thing as well. And in such a context it may mean, "I wish you'd shut the hell up before I get mad at you, which I don't want to do because I like you and hate being mad at you." (People are generally due respect unless they've done something to lose it, but points-of-view, not-so-much. I might well love and respect family members and friends who are very politically conservative or religiously fundamentalist while thinking their points-of-view are distressing in people with so many other good qualities; no doubt they feel the same way about me, so I think it all probably evens out somewhere.)

In law school you frequently run across the phrase "reasonable minds may differ" in essays, briefs and court opinions; I like it in general usage to mean what you suggest "agree to disagree" might mean, because it acknowledges that the person you disagree with is being thoughtful, which "agree to disagree" really doesn't. Reasonable minds may differ, for instance, about whether government should be small and laissez-faire or large and wielding a direct role in the economy; there are decent arguments on either side. Reasonable minds can't differ on whether or not the universe was created one day in 4,004 B.C., because such a belief is basically unreasonable no matter how otherwise smart the person possessing the belief might be or what other qualities of generosity or humor or whatever they might possess.

My two cents, redeemable for exactly two cents.


taphan: What Gregory Hines would have been if he'd been born in First Century China.

MWT said...

Hmm. "Reasonable minds may differ." I like that one. Maybe we should use it more often outside of legal circles. ;)