Principle 8 – It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion. I always enjoy this principle, because it allows me to reach across the aisle and quote Hillary Clinton. “I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you’re not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.”
Bring on the Tea Party.
And suddenly those who debate and disagree with this administration somehow aren’t patriotic. They’re a dangerous mob, potential terrorists, and we’re pretty sure that the movement is all about violence, racism and sex. (Sex? Really? What tea party rally are those people going to?) Suddenly, calls for “civility” are ringing across the airwaves because of the actions of a lone madman in Tucson AZ. And there is a valid point to be conceded – we should be able to disagree agreeably. But it’s more important for us to be able to disagree, period.
Late last year, my wife and I went to a two-day training on getting your own business up and running. It was an absolutely fascinating class that talked about motivation, building teams, marketing, and for some reason, R. Buckminster Fuller. (The instructor was a fan.)
As part of the training, we split into small groups and ran… The Survival Scenario!!! You and a group of people have crashed in the wilds of Canada. You were off course! Miles from civilization! Here’s a list of what you’ve got! Now what? Everyone came up with their own ranking of the items from most important to least important. And then we got into the groups and discussed it, and we needed to come to a consensus on what we were going to do. We ran into a disagreement very early on as I wanted the group to stick with the plane, and everyone else wanted to trek to town – which would take days over rough terrain, bad weather, etc. EVERYONE ELSE was on the “let’s trek back to town!” train. And so… I didn’t really fight for it. I didn’t force the debate. I decided to go along to get along. I wanted to be civil.
At the end, our individual and group scores were compared against the recommendations of survival experts. The exercise was meant to demonstrate “synergy” – that together we are stronger than we are separately, and that the process would bring higher scores for the group and help their problem solving. Every single group discovered that by working together, they got better scores than any one of them got individually. Well, every group but one.
See, I scored higher as an individual than the group did. In fact, I scored above the ranking that the survival experts put down as “surviving”. The group – my group – did not. Our group “failed”. And afterwards, the instructor pointed to me, and in so many words told me it was my fault. And he was right.
I learned an important lesson that day. You must have the debate. You have to argue it out until people agree. And if you don’t? If you don’t have the conversation? If you go along to get along? If you settle for compromise rather than consensus? The problems our country is facing now are huge. Potentially, they deal with the survival of the republic as we know it. All of our voices need to be heard – both on the right and on the left. I don’t have all the answers. And the consequences will be a lot bigger than being cussed out by a R. Buckminster Fuller fan, traumatic as it was at the time.
Non-sequiturs, bulverisms, etc., are not debate. They are a distraction, meant to shame someone into not speaking at all (civility accomplished!), or at least into making them defend themselves from allegations of being sexist, intolerant, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, or bigoted (Which Dennis Prager condenses to “SIXHIRB“). Which means that whatever it was that we really do disagree on – the underlying principles of the thing – don’t get discussed at all.
If we shrink from the intellectual fight – if we allow those we disagree with to determine the topics of the conversation, and what is or is not an appropriate response, then we will have compromised our national conversation in another sense. One of the dictionary definitions of compromise is: an endangering, especially of reputation; exposure to danger,suspicion, etc.: a compromise of one’s integrity.
May we adopt the final stanza of Blake’s preface to Milton as a rallying cry, and a reminder.
Whether the issue is the Patriot Act or Healthcare… whether we agree or disagree… whether we can disagree agreeably or not…
We Must Have the Debate!
I shall not shrink from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
‘Til we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green & pleasant land.