Regardless of where you find yourself on the political or social spectrum, one thing I think we can all agree on is how polarized we are. I can immediately think of exceptions to that statement, but that’s what they are. Exceptions. The rule in our larger social narrative these days seems to be the disagreement. So, what does that mean for how we navigate our everyday lives? Have we lost the art of agreeing to disagree?
Rev. Dr. Hunter
I was a community organizer in greater Cleveland, OH back in the early 2000’s. The organization was made up of all kinds of faith-based institutions in the metro area. If you’re looking for classic places where disagreement shows up in our society, look no further than congregations of differing denominations. And yet, we brought together an average of 20 congregations of varying backgrounds on a regular basis.
Rev. Dr. David Hunter was the pastor of one such congregation. He and I worked closely together for three years. During that time, our differences became apparent, even beyond the most visible differences of gender, age, and race. We had radically different views on politics and many social issues. And yet, we worked very closely together, and deeply respected and appreciated one another.
How does that happen?
In our work together, we focused on the many things we had in common. We both held a deep passion for social justice in our communities, which is what brought us together through organizing. But in our 1-1 conversations over time, we discussed deeper issues which sometimes led to the acknowledgement of our many differences.
Pastor Hunter taught me how to simply hold space for another person. He taught me the value of listening without always responding. That we don’t have to agree with one another to still respect one another. And how critical it is that we do.
But never were those differences taken to the extreme that meant either of us lost our right to exist with human dignity. And that’s the difference between then and now.
Lines in the sand
There are a lot of lines being drawn in the sand these days. I’ve been thinking about Dr. Hunter a lot. We’ve lost touch in the 18 years since I left organizing. But I hang onto the lessons I learned from him.
Basing our public relationships on common ground, or mutual self-interest, is key. And to do so while always respecting the other person’s basic right to exist with dignity. To navigate any workplace relationship successfully, we must be willing to engage thoughtfully and deeply with every person in our sphere.
Let’s not fear differences of opinion or lived experiences. At the same time, let’s make sure those differences don’t prevent us from recognizing the humanity in all of us. To find a collective path forward, we need to be more willing to learn the art of agreeing to disagree.