Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Nobody disagrees on anything

Now put down your fists, please:


I have and idea that I’ve made into a personal intellectual dogma (intellectual in the sense that I don’t live by it naturally):

In theory, a discussion or dispute between two people, could go on and evolve as long as there's still disagreement. In reality, we probably don’t discuss to understand our counterpart, but instead try to convince the other the correctness of our own view (a self-serving bias all homo sapiens have by designed). If you think about it, this seems totally stupid: shouldn’t discussion lead to the best solution to the problem? It might seem insanely obvious, but still almost everybody contradicts it when we look how people actually discuss with each other. In all probability, finding the best solution to a problem will involve modification of both participants’ positions and arguments. A sole person cannot have figured everything out – still most discussions end up with someone giving up - or pretending to be convinced, while still “deep down” knowing that the other person ain’t getting the point.

In the light of this, I think we should all try to tame our habit of manipulation, dirty rhetorical tricks and the idea that every discussion is like a fight between to combatants (and we have to find a winner and a loser). Instead we must focus on the most important (I’ll say it again): (1) reaching the best solution to the problem. This is only realistic to do if everyone accepts that (2) nobody is ever totally right or wrong.

With these two mantras inhabiting our minds, we should experience a whole bunch of healthy discussion related side effects:

  • Honesty, sharpness and consistency (We greatly enhance our analytical abilities when we don’t have to think about who’s in power of the discussion)
  • Social bonding and empathy (Most people will find this much easier, when actually cooperating on reaching a common solution)
  • Happiness (The joy of finding something true together)

In extension of the above, I have sometimes speculated that nobody really disagrees on anything – if it looks as if they do, then they just don’t understand each other yet. Similarly, it is impossible to disagree – instead you can only fail to understand. Therefore: when all is said, everyone agrees.

Do you agree?

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