Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"I Respectfully Disagree"

A while back, I attempted, substantially unsuccessfully, to delineate the difference between being observant and commenting – meaning having an opinion – about what I’ve observed, and being judgmental.  It’s an Everest of an issue, and it’s no shame to be driven back to the “Base Camp” before conquering the summit.  I enjoy analogizing with activities I would never attempt, to inject an element of excitement into what I actually do – which is thinking about things and writing about them – overlooking the unincluded danger of toppling off a mountain.   

Not to say that commenting – and having an opinion – about things is entirely without danger.  But it isn’t.

It is startling to me, noticing how quickly the slightest disagreement can obliterate the veneer of civility that encases us and expose our scarily barbarous nature underneath. 

The tiniest difference of opinion: 

“Do you watch Downton Abbey?”

“I did the first year, because I was attracted to its chronicle of changing times.  But then it became “soap opera”, and I haven’t looked at it since.”

Watch closely – as I, and all people vigilantly (possibly excessively) concerned about their immediate safety and wellbeing must – and you will detect the nanosecondal revelation of a “Murderous Flicker.” 

Almost certainly without deliberate intention, “fighting words” have been exchanged.  From the tightening of their jaws and the narrowing of their eyes, eons-old indicators are transmitted, signaling that the person is ready to cut somebody’s heart out with an unsharpened implement, stomp on it, and dump it in the trash. 

All because that “somebody” no longer cares for Downtown Abbey.

“Differing opinions” – that’s all it is.  But inextricably enmeshed in those opinions,  there appears to be, at least to the receiver, the underlying assumption of judgment. 

Not about Downton Abbey – that’s just a show.  Unless you’re Julian Fellowes (who made it up) there is no proprietary investment in a skillfully produced British costume drama.  The assumption is, that a judgment (generated by “The Other”) is being suggested…

About them.   

The response to this “assault”, less thoughtfully considered than evolutionarily reflexive, goes something like this:

“Ohhh, I see.  You have a heightened sensibility on the matter.  You once enjoyed Downton Abbey, but, somehowwww, it then slipped below your lofty standards, and now it’s no longer worthy of your attention, in contrast to the rest of us – undiscerning wretches that we are – who go on, mindlessly believing the show to be a continuing delight.  Is that what you are telling me, Sir?


Do I, in such moments, feel the same way?  Probably, though I believe, to a less homicidal degree.  I cannot, however, assert this for a certainty, because, during the moment in question, I am busy evaluating the various options for saving my life!


“Buy, you a drink, Mister?”

“I’m fine.” 

“I said… ‘Buy you a drink, Mister’?”

“I told you I’m fine.”

Count to ten.  And most likely by “eight”, one hombre or the other will be lying, bleeding and lifeless, on the frontier cow town’s sawdusty floor.

All because one hombre declined another hombre’s offer to purchase him a drink.

However camouflaged in politeness, there seems to be something inside us that prevents us from disagreeing – not “without being disagreeable” – but without the primal impulse to strike out at this subtle or otherwise impugner of our integrity, and make them instantly stop breathing!  

Once, when I invited someone near and dear to me to watch a “debate show” because it was interesting to hear both sides of the argument, they responded by explaining,

“In a debate, I like one side to win, and the other side to die.”

And this was a certifiably civilized person.

I’ve been wanting to write an entire post on the following subject, but I have never been able to construct it without sounding petty and defensive. 
The gist of it is, try telling somebody who has cooked for you that, for religious or health reasons, or out of sheer dietary pickiness, you are unwilling to eat what they made. 

Though they will invariably blithely announce “No problem” and quickly whip up an alternative, if you look closely, you will detect unspoken smoldering, and virtual smoke emanating from their irredeemably offended ears. 

And please, do not try this in another country.

“We eat ‘foot’ here.”

“You what?”

“‘Roast Foot’ is our country’s greatest delicacy, served only for company, and for ‘milestone’ birthdays and anniversaries.  And always, the “Guest of Honor” receives the “heel” – the meatiest portion of the foot, and the serving freest of troublesome bones and sinewy cartilage.”

“I think I’ll just stick with the salad.”

“No ‘foot’?  You have insulted our tribal customs!  Kill him!  No wait!  Cut off his foot!”

An international incident – all because the invited guest was not a fan of what they were serving.

And don’t get me started about religion.

“We believe we are “The One True Religion.’  But we acknowledge your religion as well.”

“As what?  'The Untrue Religion'?” 

The ecumenical blather proceeds, the hole inevitably gets deeper –

“We are holding out the ‘olive branch’ of tolerance and respect.”

“Yeah, but you still think we are going to Hell!” –

And “Bam!” – Here come the Crusades!

Despite protestations to the contrary, it appears somehow beyond the human “skill set” to unemotionally disagree.

My sense it that there is something primordially natural going on, meaning that it is likely there is nothing we can do to change things.  My personal view is, it would seem healthier to acknowledge that the impulse exists.

Or, is it better to suppress this awareness and go on, cheerfully pretending that “It takes all kinds”?

Care to weigh in? 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Now, you see, this is because you're Canadian: you wait for the response to get murderous.

I, however, am from New York. Here is the question perfectly designed to send me into a murderous rage:

"Would you like my seat?"



Wilson said...

What happened..."There are broader and deeper implications to this matter, which I shall assemble for tomorrow’s post."???