“The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte
Being willing to disagree, facing conflict squarely and not hiding is difficult to do for most of us. I can say for myself, it used to terrify me. I was the peace-maker in my family, the one who tried to make everything OK when anyone in my family was arguing (and trust me, there was a lot of arguing in my family!) And when my husband, Jeff and I used to argue, it terrified me. My fear of abandonment surfaced and I shrank. The fact that Jeff is about 6′ 2″ and I’m just over 5′ added to the whole paradigm of shrinking back. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t give into every whim, but I didn’t like to face the conflict and sort through the disagreement. My usual MO was to punish with silence, to walk away and not talk and make him suffer (yes I know, not the most mature approach!) But as I said, conflict terrified me and I did not like being around people who disagreed with me.
It was only after years of therapy and reading lots of books that I came to value myself enough to not fear standing my ground. And by realizing that I would survive fine without Jeff, my fear of abandonment started to dissapate, and I became stronger in my willingness to face conflict head on, and as a result, our relationship grew stronger.
I’m not that afraid of conflict anymore, and this brings a delicious freedom. I don’t necessarily go looking for an argument, but as a 50+ year old woman, I am pretty good at standing my own ground now!
So it was with great interest that I listened to Margaret Heffernan in this fascinating TED Talk, Dare to Disagree. She describes constructive conflict as a fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers.
“So what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all . . . it means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy. And the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think, really, that that’s a kind of love. Because you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care.”
I love that statement that we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves. It’s true, we usually surround ourselves with people who agree with us and show disdain for those who do not. But in reality, as Heffernan points out, conflict often leads to creativity:
“Yes, there was a lot of conflict and debate and argument, but that allowed everyone around the table to be creative, to solve the problem.”
I agree with Heffernan, we must be willing to disagree with each other, to face conflict and work through it. In this TED talk she explains the importance of disagreement in organizations and globally. But for me, I can only confirm how liberating it is personally. As Napoleon points out – the people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know. Daring to disagree takes courage, but in my opinion, it is essential.
Please tell me about the times you have dared to disagree. And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.