My husband’s cousin taught me this. Thank you, Big D.
It was after 9/11, we had already invaded Afghanistan, and we were preparing to invade Iraq. Darren had sent me an article challenging the planned invasion. I responded by voicing my support for our government’s decision. Darren responded, and was strenuous in his arguments against invasion; I responded and was strenuous in my arguments supporting the invasion. We debated back and forth by email for a while, and it was clear we simply were not going to come to an agreement. In the end, Darren told me he was glad we had the discussion, glad I was willing to take a stand and argue for it, and glad that disagreeing on politics did not have a negative effect on our relationship. In fact, it strengthened it, and that was kind of a shocker for me, since I’d never experienced “relationship building through debate” before. We disagreed with one another, and still loved and respected one another. Long before I heard someone say it was possible to “disagree without being disagreeable”, Darren showed me how to do it. Because, you see, we weren’t trying to change one another, we were just having a discussion. A lively, passionate, heart-felt and very important discussion, but still just a discussion in which each tried to understand and be understood by the other. That is why we remain good friends, and why we will always be there for one another.
I do my best to practice this every day, because for me this is at the very heart of diplomacy, and Leadership and Statesmanship very often require a hefty dose of diplomacy. Sitting across the room (or the world wide web) from a friend or community member, and disagreeing on something that each of us is determined we are right about. Passionately discussing the “issue”, but never failing to see the person before me, continuing to respect them despite the words they are speaking which I simply cannot accept as “right”. Honestly and deeply looking for the rightness in their words, not finding it, and respecting them anyway.
So, what if we didn’t just practice this with our friends and family and members of our community? What if every American citizen who engaged in debate honored and respected every other American citizen enough to spar on the important issues, without ever losing sight of the American they are sparring with. Continuing to honor and respect that person as a fellow American, even when the debate ends in continued disagreement. What if all of us being Americans, all joined in our common love of our country and one another, was always, always, more important than who is right? Wouldn’t you like to live in that America? Wouldn’t you like your children and grandchildren to live in that America? I would. It’s going to take Leaders and Statesman to create that America, and I have absolutely no doubt that we can do it.