By Bill Harley
We’ve become very good at passionate disagreement in our communities, our country and the world today. Passion can be useful in surfacing concerns and issues that need to be addressed, but it can also cloud reason. Maybe that is why we are having such a hard time deliberating together on problems and actually making effective decisions to solve them. When people passionately disagree, the truth remains hidden. People’s egos become so attached to their ideas that their eyes go blind and their ears go deaf to nuance and subtlety (to learn more about detaching your ego from your ideas read our recent blog entry).
Consider our partisan, adversarial political processes. The left articulates and promotes its views with passionate intensity; and the right does the same. The news media magnify the passionate intensity from their own partisan editorial stances. From the adversarial contention we get the impression that it must be one way or the other; it can be liberal or conservative, but not both. One side needs to win.
But liberal and conservative, left and right, are false dichotomies. Virtually any robust solution to any significant problem requires a subtle blend of liberal and conservative principles. For example, we need a social welfare system that cares for those people who can’t care for themselves—the human family needs to care for all of its own; but the system also needs to encourage those who can care for themselves to do so—otherwise we deprive people of the sense of dignity, meaning and community that comes from doing work; and the system needs to be affordable and sustainable—if we go bankrupt, no one is served. Building a carefully balanced system like this requires a sensitive interpenetration of liberal and conservative ideas (and other perspectives as well). Nuanced, truly effective solutions can only be achieved through a collaborative spirit in which the subtle, grey areas in the middle ground get fully explored; and then the truth of the matter is revealed.
False dichotomies that keep the truth hidden flourish in any environment in which people’s ideas conflict with passionate intensity—whether in a family, a community, an organization, a city, a state, a nation or the world. Only people who have learned the skill of Dispassionate Disagreement can step outside the false dichotomies, explore the subtle, grey middle ground, and clearly see that we need both liberal and conservative perspectives—and probably several others—to reach the “sweet spot” of a just, unifying and robustly effective decision. This is the only reliable way to get the truth of a matter to reveal itself. It also builds trust into the deliberative atmosphere (see our book for more information about creating an atmosphere and culture of trust during deliberation).
Here is the crux. Those who are skilled at Dispassionate Disagreement have a different approach to the clash of ideas. They don’t focus on the thought collisions and how to win the argument; they focus on the sparks emanating from the thought collisions that illuminate new terrain leading to the truth and transformative solutions. They are dispassionate about the clash of ideas, but passionate about the collaborative search for truth. Dispassionate Disagreement is just one of 12 Behavioral Standards that inform the revolutionary decision-making process called Compassionate Consultation. Compassionate Consultation is the deliberation process for the 21st Century and beyond. For the full story, read our second book entitled, TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions that Change Your Life.