January 26. “Conversation means being able to disagree and still continue the discussion.” (Dwight MacDonald)
I can say, from my own experience, that some of the most exciting and engaging conversations I have ever partaken in, have been conversations with people I disagreed with. There is something that is quite vital to being able to carry on conversation over disagreement, without becoming disagreeable.
In my adult life I have enjoyed surrounding myself with “like minded” people. I tend to hang around with people who have the same, general take on things like raising children and getting along in life. The people I count among my best friends share some aspect in common with me about important topics like being parents, effectively getting along with people, religion, and even politics. But no person in my life, not even my wife, agrees with me on everything. It is when disagreements arise that the strength of friendship is measured, and the character of friends.
I can remember when I was in my late High School and early College years. I had a little posse of friends that I hung out with. It seemed that every week we were off to see some movie, and then sit around well into the evening, deep in some conversation or another. At the time it seemed we were discussing things of great importance. Honestly, I don’t remember any of the particular conversations, so it is entirely possible that we were, in fact, discussing important things. What I do remember is that we didn’t always agree with one another. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we almost NEVER completely agreed with each other. All of us had our own, unique take on life, and our own opinions as a result. Sometimes the conversations would become a bit heated, as a person would argue for one or another point. But we never let it get between us as friends. At the end of it all, we were strong together.
I have had many other friends over the last 30 odd years with whom I have had similar conversations. We come together, we sit and talk about things that are important, and some things that are not. We sit for hours at a kitchen table, or the table of a restaurant, and we talk. It is in these conversations that I grow and learn. I try not to entrench myself in a particular position, and do my best to allow the thoughts of others to help mold what I think. I am not always successful, as there are some things where I have particular passion, and find it hard to budge. But, in general, it is the conversation that excites me.
I sometimes think there isn’t enough conversation in our country. Far too often I see people posturing and promoting a particular position. Rarely are people of opposing views brought together to have honest conversation about a topic. More often a particular group will have a strong position and invite in someone who opposes theirs, and it looks as though there could be a conversation, but it quickly devolves into a shouting match, with each side simply re-stating their stance with ever-increasing volume. Soon after it is time for a commercial break, and the topic changes.
Today my reflection is on the need for more conversation. I need it more in my life to help me continue to evolve and grow. And, I think our society needs it more in order to tackle difficult questions. Conversation, and the free exchange of ideas, is one of the most important things that sets a free society apart from oppression. The less we exercise that freedom, the weaker it becomes until we one day will no longer enjoy the freedom to disagree.