Let’s Just Agree to Disagree
Often in a discussion, whether in person or online, the person I am talking to will declare, “let’s just agree to disagree”. Sometimes I accept this and let the debate end there, and sometimes I get a bit annoyed and try to press my point. When I do the latter, I am told that I’m a bad sport, or I’m accused of suffering from an obsession to force people to agree with me.
Let me explain how I decide my course of action when I hear those familiar words. If there is a genuine stalemate, that is, if there are key issues to the discussion that simply cannot be resolved through objective, rational means, if our views clearly cannot be reconciled through progressive, evidence based discussion, then I have absolutely no problem agreeing to disagree. I may even suggest it myself.
What really presses my buttons, is someone hiding behind “let’s just agree to disagree” to save face while retreating from an argument that they know they have lost. Imagine, if you will, a football (soccer) match where one team is enjoying a triumphant 6-0 score-line, but with two minutes left to play, the losing side picks up the ball and marches off the field saying, “well, let’s just call it a draw (tie)”. That is how some people use the “agree to disagree” excuse. Sometimes I can even see it coming. I watch as they summarise each of their points just one last time, just to check that they can’t argue any of them any further, before they say it.
So, who’s the bad sport? This is exactly the point where they should be conceding defeat. Now, coming out of one discussion badly doesn’t mean that you’re wrong all together, or that you have to change your beliefs on the spot. However, I’m reminded of a face to face discussion I had at work last Christmas with a fundamentalist Christian. After nearly an hour of intense but amicable discussion, he told me, “I can’t answer your points. I’ll have to go and think about what you’ve said and look into the arguments you’ve made more closely”, after which he held out his hand and shook mine warmly. Now, that’s sportsmanship.
I aspire to do the same. If I genuinely can’t refute someone’s arguments, I try to have the intellectual honesty to accept it, and the courtesy to acknowledge it.
I have noticed this during discussions with a wide range of people on a wide range of topics, but I tend to find it more so with Christians. To be fair, that could be because I debate with Christians more than any other group. But I do often find the same thought occurring to me after long discussions with the followers of Christ – defeating them in a debate is easy, but getting them to realise or admit that defeat, that’s the real challenge.