Agree to Disagree in a Constructive Way

Seems likes it’s becoming increasingly more difficult in the current political climate to “agree to disagree.” But can we disagree in a way that’s not destructive? Can we at least try to not be downright contemptuous to those with opposing views?

That’s the question being discussed by economist Arthur Brooks, who says politicians, in particular, are creating the climate of contempt. And the damage is being hoisted upon the average American.

“We have leaders who are encouraging us as citizens to treat each other with contempt,” Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, said during a recent Facebook Live discussion from the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual event held by the Aspen Institute in Colorado. “That’s a really dangerous business, building power on the basis of contempt and division. …

“The most destructive way to disagree is to treat your interlocutor with contempt. We have to get out of that particular habit. We have to demand leaders aren’t going to do that,” he said.

Sociologists describe contempt as a phenomenon in which individuals hold the conviction that other people are utterly worthless. It’s more insidious than disagreement or even anger, Brooks says.

“Anger you get over … contempt you don’t. If I treat you as a worthless human you’re never going to forget that,” he said, citing the work of marriage counselor John Gottman, who can watch a couple on a video for five seconds without the sound on and predict with 94 percent accuracy whether they will stay together or divorce based on physical expressions of contempt.

Nationally, 86 percent of Americans say they believe the country is more politically divided than in the past, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s the highest percentage ever to give that response since the question was first asked in 2004. At the same time, A CBS poll said a majority are optimistic that Americans of different political views can come together and work out their differences.

Brooks said that Americans in general have long been able to hold political disagreements and still treat each other respectfully.

“We all love somebody who doesn’t agree with us politically,” he said.

The obsession with national politics not only is not what the Founding Fathers envisioned, but also is to blame for the cult-like partitioning of Americans into political tribes. Fortunately, many political leaders at the state and local level on both sides of the aisle are solving problems without the distraction of creating heroes and villains.

Brooks says it comes down to being able to “disagree better.”

“The positive change starts with us.”

Do you think that Brooks is correct, and can anything be done to improve the divide?

Watch the video to hear more of Brooks’ views on the political climate and free enterprise as well as how he went from a classical musician to a world-renowned economist and researcher on happiness.

Best Friends, Opposing Views: Getting Along in the Age of Disdain

In a world of “fake news” and “filter bubbles,” can you really maintain friendships with people who disagree with you?

If Robbie George and Cornel West are any indication, the answer is not only yes, but that people on “the other side of the aisle” can be the best of friends.

These two professors, one at Princeton, one at Harvard, were introduced by Andrew Perlmutter, a then-religion student starting a campus magazine at Princeton. The magazine’s inaugural issue had one professor select another for an interview. West selected George.

The interview between the two, who had never met, was supposed to last an hour. It lasted four and a half hours.

“There’s no doubt that our spirits and our souls resonated, and intellectually we were both on fire talking about the great classical economical texts,” West said.

That’s when they decided to teach a class together. The 12-books to be studied that first semester spanned Plato to Martin Luther King, Jr. The two continued the class for 10 years, together selecting the texts for future seminars.

Recently, the two men got together to discuss their relationship, the purpose of studying liberal arts, and the value of finding common ground with people you may not otherwise know. Ultimately, George concludes, the examined life may not be pretty, but it is well-lived. And it doesn’t have to be in an ivory tower.

“The key element of the liberal arts is self-mastery” George said. “Self-mastery doesn’t require a college education.”

Philosophically, the two couldn’t be more different. West is a liberal who supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. George is a conservative who said was threatened with “excommunication” from the right for not supporting Donald Trump. The two said their criticism of the political party lines was a matter of commitment to their values and a “quest for integrity, honestly, and decency.”

“It’s not pure, it’s not pristine, but it has much to do with how we were raised,” West said. “It has much to do with the choices we make in terms of our religious Christian faith. It has something to do with the traditions that we choose to be a part of, and also how we choose to die, that we intend to be faithful unto death.”