Agree to disagree. I remember hearing these words a lot in school. Sometimes they were just a way to end an argument because one party or the other was tired of it. Sometimes they were used as a way of saying “I don’t want to listen to you”. Sometimes, rarely, they meant that two people with sincere good will can simply hold different opinions on something without it damaging their relationship. Those happy days of old.
It is difficult today to pay any attention to the political world and fail to notice a deepening divide. We are told that this divide is between “Left” and “Right”. We are told from each side that the other is dangerously extreme and that “we” are sane. We are told that “their” views are violent and too dangerous to be heard. We are told “they” must be silenced. We are told these things so many times, that eventually we start to believe it.
Herein lies the real danger. To believe that just because you have different views from me, you are dangerous. You are malicious. You must be silenced. This kind of thinking is taking (or has already taken) firm grip in our society. We allow it to dictate a narrative whereby we presume what someone else will say without actually talking to them. We stop listening to each other. This is the danger of political extremism. To push ourselves so far to one side or another where we begin in some way to demonize those we view on the other side.
So why does any of this matter? You might think to yourself that you really don’t care about people’s opinions or what they think of you. You might say to yourself that you really don’t want to hear from people who disagree with you on certain topics. However, the simple reality of living in a society is that we have to find a way to get along with people we disagree with. Demonizing others in our own society is quick path to destroying ourselves. To affect any kind of real change we need the buy in of those who may disagree with us on other topics. To grow and develop our own thoughts an opinion we need to hear from viewpoints we may not have previously considered. In order to maintain a society, we need to find common ground and things that unite us. Jesus himself tells us that “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Mk 3;25.
This is the risk we run with continued political extremism. The breakdown in cohesion of our society and our nation. Perhaps we have gotten too comfortable and have lost sight of just how precious and fragile those bonds are. So, what can we do to start to turn the tide of this destructive political extremism? A few simple practices might help; a) Presume the good will of the other person. b) Listen to them in case they know something you don’t. c) Speak charitably, so they will be willing to listen to you. Finally, remember that sometimes it is alright to agree to disagree.