Disagree to Agree

Don't run away from arguments. Disagree to agree.

The very best conversations or writings are those that make you think.

This happens either when you learn something new, or when you consider changing your views about something.

You can learn something new in two cases.

First, if the topic is new to you. So if I read or listen to someone talk about gene sequencing, I’ll learn something new.

But that’s a reflection of the topic, not of the conversation itself. It doesn’t tell you much about the author’s work.

The second is when someone writes or talks about general ideas or things you already think you know.

To be able to make you see something you’ve taken for granted and never thought much about in a new light – anyone who can do that is worth talking to and worth reading. Such people are rare – this is one example.

I call this learning something new because you probably didn’t have an opinion on that topic, simply because you’d never thought much about it, or even known that you could look at it in such depth.

It’s different from considering changing your views – for that, you’d need to have a view first.

And to have a view on something, you’d hopefully have thought about it, unless you just copied someone else’s view.

To change your views you need to listen to someone else with a different view.

That’s two requirements.

One – the person should have a view. He shouldn’t be a bland, balanced person without any view of his own, someone simply trying to be “correct” all the time.

Two – the person should have a view different from yours.

Unfortunately, it’s the age of the echo-chamber where you’re fed opinions that align with yours – that’s why you need to actively hunt for these views because they won’t come to you on their own.

You’ll find them in arguments.

That’s why I said arguments are among the best conversations, regardless of the bad rep they get.

The conversations that aren’t telling you something you don’t know, or aren’t changing your views are usually simply affirmations.

If two people always agree, one of them isn’t needed.

A comment saying this is a good article is a nice affirmation, but it doesn’t tell anything new. At least mentioning why it’s nice gives something to go on.

Mere criticism is equally pointless, but pointing out genuine flaws is invaluable. This is the perfect guide on how to do it.

Argument is the synthesis between a thesis and an anti-thesis. You take one view, and you take the opposite, and you try to arrive at a better understanding – a new thesis, emerging from the synthesis. Then you repeat this again with the new thesis.

It doesn’t mean that you always change your mind.

But you always “consider” changing it.

If you don’t have that openness, you’re not arguing, and you’re not going to gain anything. You’re just trying to preach.

I’ve found that not only do I learn more when I argue, but my conversations become far more entertaining.

Even if you don’t change your mind, you still question your views and try to understand why you believe whatever you do.

You need a strong foundation if you want good arguments.

And your foundation will become strong if you argue enough, because you’ll be forced to probe down to the core of your beliefs.

This is the best way I know of to take ownership of your belief. To own them means that they’re truly yours, principles you’ve accepted consciously yourself instead of blindly borrowing them from others.

In fact, that’s why I try to turn most of my conversations into argument. Even if I agree with whoever I’m talking to, I like to take the opposite position and pretend that I disagree.

It’s fun to see how far you can defend a view you don’t agree with and whether you can convince yourself or others.

And before you take any position on an issue, the best way to know if you’re really convinced of it is to argue from the opposite camp.

If you do that, and if you come across a stumbling block – a position you can’t defend, you’ll know why you don’t share the opposite view.

What It Takes

If you do this, you’ll find that people often misunderstand you.

Anyone who argues is seen as rigid and unchanging, a know-it-all who thinks he’s seen everything and knows everything better than everyone and therefore doesn’t need to listen to anyone.

And yet it’s in fact the exact opposite.

You argue because you’re so flexible, not because you’re rigid.

You’re always willing – not just willing but eager – to listen to something different from what you believe, in the hope that it’ll change your mind.

That hope is there because if you changed your mind, you’d give up your present belief for something new. And you’d only do that if it offered you something better than what you already have.

Nor do you argue because you think you know more than anyone and you don’t need to listen to them.

On the contrary, you argue because you want to listen to them.

The best way to draw someone out is to question them, to take the opposing viewpoint and argue from it, for a person usually draws on his best when he’s under fire.

People seldom elaborate if you keep nodding your head and agreeing.

When you want someone to expound, to clarify himself and go in depth, argue. They’ll be forced to draw on reserves they didn’t know they had, and come up with reasoning they’d never think of otherwise.

So if you argue people might think you believe you know better, you’re unwilling to change, and you don’t listen to anyone.

Not surprisingly, if you like to argue, most of the people around you will probably think you’re arrogant.

Whereas the truth is that it takes some amount of humility to constantly question your beliefs, to be open to rejecting them and to seek every opportunity to do that.

How to Argue

A lot of people argue online and offline hoping to “win”, doing their best to convince others of something.

That’s stupid on two counts.

In the first place, it doesn’t make a difference what someone else believes. If you don’t have better things to do than spend your time trying to convince people of your viewpoint, it might be a good idea to re-evaluate your life.

And more importantly, going into arguments hoping to win is doing it wrong.

If you agreed that you want to argue because you’re hoping to learn something different, you’ll see that you’d go into any argument hoping you’d lose.

It’s not that “winning” an argument is pointless – if you can convince a smart person, it shows your reasoning has merit.

But that doesn’t compare to learning something new, where someone convinces you there’s a better way to think of something than how you’ve always thought about it.

So the goal is to try your best to prove yourself wrong, not to win.

One more reason why it’s pointless to try to win arguments is because a lot of times no one wins.

These are ties; the result is a draw.

That’s because the most polarizing arguments are almost always decided by values, not facts.

This is usually the wrong thing to argue about.

Pro choice or Pro life? Legalizing banned substances? Banning books?

It’ll be really hard to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

Most of these come down to valuing freedom versus valuing something else more than it – like someone’s sentiments or the life of a foetus.

It’s hard to position this as a “right v/s wrong” issue though that’s what people try anyway.

But that doesn’t mean either that we fall back to the old “moral relativism” argument, saying that everyone has a different perspective and every perspective is equally valid.

That’s just an easy way out, and it’s definitely not true. The odds of every view being equally right are like every kid scoring exactly the same in a test – very unlikely.

Stay Away from These

There are two types of arguments to avoid like the plague.

Arguing about the wrong thing.

Arguing with the wrong person.

They’re not distinct – in fact if you find yourself arguing with the wrong person, you’re also more likely to be arguing about the wrong thing.

The wrong thing can be something that’s interesting, like banning things or not, but so value-based that you’ll probably never change your position unless you change your values.

And it’s unlikely mere words will fundamentally change your values – I think it takes some deep experience for that to happen.

It’s not completely useless though, at least at first, because you still get to understand how different people can believe something so different from you if you can understand what their values are.

It can quickly get repetitive though, because most of these follow a pretty familiar trajectory.

Even more useless are those things you don’t care about at all. Everyone has their own list.

If someone argues about a celebrity or which TV show or sports team is better – I never engage. It’s a matter of complete indifference to me.

It’s also not worth trying to win these arguments because sometimes you realize that two people are just so different they don’t even see the world the same way.

You cannot argue, or even hold a meaningful conversation with anyone unless you both have some common ground. It’s like trying to play chess or football with someone without even agreeing on the rules of the game.

This is when you argue with the wrong person.

There’s very little overlap; your mental wavelengths are not compatible.

So often I find that I literally have almost nothing to communicate about with someone else, because the overlap between our interests is almost nil. Near total silence is the only option. I’m sure the other person feels the same way.

If things are moving toward a disagreement, it’s best just to nod and move on.

Sometimes, the wrong person can argue about the right thing, but he’ll do it the wrong way.

This is pretty annoying – you get into an argument where someone makes completely irrational appeals.

It’s human nature to do this“. Why is it “natural”? There’s seldom any good answer.

Or the opposite – “It’s unnatural to do that”. Why’s it unnatural? What’s wrong if it is, anyway?

“We’ve always done it this way.” So why should we keep doing it that way?

“He said we should do this.” Why should we listen to him?

Through experience, I’ve seen these are even more dangerous baits.

At least you can avoid engaging if you spot the wrong topic.

Here you’ll enter thinking it’s worth it because the topic interests you, and you’ll only find what you’re in for after getting your hands dirty.

It essentially comes down to quality over quantity, as everything does. More conversations with fewer people, because you get most of the value from a few people, just as you make most of your profits from a few investments.

That’s why a lot of times, agreeing to disagree is boring and doesn’t lead you to anything new.

It can be better to disagree to agree, if you do it with the right people.


Shivam Yadav

But how to tackle that hatred that pops in from the other person while we disagree

Prasoon Mishra

There can be other ways to refine your concepts than just arguing. It may help you get a clear vision of your beliefs or whatever you are arguing on but it’s not always the good idea to use as this technique depends on the environment you currently are. It’s just like if the computer hangs, easiest way to get it back working is pressing the power button, but is it the recommended way? I don’t think so. One more thing I would like to point out, all the best conversations not always require learning any thing new or changing views. Some are nostalgic in nature or conversing with someone you cared a lot after a very long time, or some emotional discussion with parents/loved ones. I think you missed the above corner case (best conversations because of emotions not because of content; but because of situation)

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