Random Asides

On the importance of disagreement

Over the past week or so, deflating from TAM, reading my usual blogs, and spending time with my family, I’ve been thinking a lot about the value of this little environment we’ve created here, and that generally exists within the skeptical community. I love that we have this space in which to share our opinions openly and expect respectful and thoughtful discussion. I love that most everyone here is willing to be wrong about everything.

It’s very refreshing in a world where people are increasingly able to exist in tailor-made bubbles, only allowing in information that will not challenge their way of thinking. Most people seem to live as though being wrong is the worst possible thing that could happen to them. I think most of us around here (after getting over a minor ego bruise) view being wrong as a learning tool. I like that. I think it makes for much more civil discourse.

If we don’t allow ourselves to be wrong, we become stuck, and we don’t grow. Through disagreements, we are able to see our views reflected back at us and change them if necessary. Or, even if they don’t change, we may gain insight into just why we hold a particular view. Last week, I wrote about my distaste for Las Vegas. In her TAM wrap-up, Stacey talked about her fondness for Vegas. Reading about the reasons she likes it made me think about the reasons that I don’t in a way I hadn’t really thought about before, and realized something new about how I relate to the world.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is thanks for arguing with me. It might get uncomfortable at times, but that is ultimately how I realize that maybe I need to re-examine something I had previously taken for granted. I see how certain people in my life have sheltered themselves from any kind of existential discomfort (as I once did), and how it has stunted their growth as people, and I don’t ever want to be in that place again.

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  1. Nice sentiments, I can totally relate. If I didn’t constantly seek out people to challenge my thinking on “the Big questions,” I don’t know where I’d be, only I know it would be a lot less interesting.

    Good post.

  2. (I just created an account to comment on this, and have just become a full-time reader of your blog)

    Great post! I could not agree more with the necessity to be willing to entertain the idea that you might be wrong about something in order to continue to grow as a person. This is very, very visible to me in a lot of the older people I know (but not just them either) who are so ingrained in their beliefs that they may as well be the same people they were 15 years ago.

    To quote Carl Sagan:
    “Those afraid of the universe as it really is, those who pretend to nonexistent knowledge and envision a Cosmos centered on human beings will prefer the fleeting comforts of superstition. They avoid rather than confront the world. But those with the courage to explore the weave and structure of the Cosmos, even where it differs profoundly from their wishes and prejudices, will penetrate its deepest mysteries. “

  3. Don’t worry about me – if I disagree with something, I’ll let you know, and I sincerely hope everyone here would extend me the same courtesy. So far they seem to be doing so fairly often.

  4. Hey – I wasn’t in any way responding to your post on Vegas in my post. I didn’t disagree with what you wrote, in fact, I thought it was very thoughtful.

    I didn’t spend enough time there for it to wear on me, and coming from a hotel background, I was pretty wide-eyed at the outrageous hotels and something stirred in my heart when I thought about all the dreamers that gambled everything, achieving epic wins and devastating losses.

    But that’s all beside your point. I think you know, from our “behind-the-scenes” emails that I couldn’t agree with you more. A willingness to be wrong takes a realistic sense of humility and true search for understanding, and I’m with you – this place is full of thoughtful, open-minded people, and it’s a great place to explore our own ideas and beliefs.

  5. no…that was just it! i liked hearing your wide-eyed view of it. it struck me that you were seeing vegas through the lens of the people that had been there, more of a social way of looking at things, while i tend to relate on a very visceral level to the material. i need to see and smell and touch the history of a place to really experience it…i guess that’s what draws me to archaeology.

    as i processed what you had observed, i began to understand in very explicit terms exactly why i reacted the way i did, and why i am so drawn to established and historically preserved places, which was really cool.

    so thanks for sharing that with me (and everyone here).

  6. Hey, if people were never wrong there would never be anything to learn, and then… what’s the point anymore? I’ve been reading Skepchick for quite a while now, though I tend to act more as a wallflower, and I personally love the threads that go on 50, 60, 100+ comments in heated debates. Aside from those who refuse to waiver from their standpoint, everyone in this “scene” seems perfectly willing to say “you know what? You’re right” once a point has been validly proven. That’s what attracted me to this blog and that’s what keeps me coming back.

  7. I agree. The ability to concede points is what I like most about who I am/who we are.

    Speaking from a strictly argumentative standpoint, I think being able to concede lends creedence to other points/arguments you make at later times.

  8. Interesting that so many are agreeing with a post about disagreement. :-)

    The stumbling block is in your statement
    “I love that we have this space in which to share our opinions openly and expect respectful and thoughtful discussion.”
    I find that people often abandon the respectful and thoughtful discussion if you are representing an idea sufficiently outside their comfort zone. Having spent some time (years) working in academia I adopted the quip “A free and open exchange of my ideas”. The real challenge comes not from those who more or less agree with you, or from those who disagree for frivolous or no reason, but from those intelligent reasonable people who disagree. It is difficult to find those people, simply because intelligent reasonable people are rare. I have certainly enjoyed reading Skepchick due to the plethora I have found here.
    Furthermore, I wholeheartedly agree with your comment:
    “Through disagreements, we are able to see our views reflected back at us and change them if necessary. Or, even if they don’t change, we may gain insight into just why we hold a particular view. ”
    It is rare that someone changes my mind on a subject, but I still love the insight that understanding their point of view brings to my own position.

    Christian Skeptic
    Pat O’Hara

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