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Before you disagree, breathe deeply and count to three

shaken not stirred miss moneypenny.“A few years ago I used to be a hothead. Whenever anyone said anything, I’d think of a way to disagree. I’d push back hard if something didn’t fit my world-view. It’s like I had to be first with an opinion – as if being first meant something. But what it really meant was that I wasn’t thinking hard enough about the problem. The faster you react, the less you think. Not always, but often.” -Jason Fried

One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from an insightful blog post by Jason Fried of 37 Signals entitled “Give it 5 minutes.”

In that article, Jason talks about the tendency that we all exhibit, at some time or another, to listen to other people’s point of view from a contrarian perspective. While Jason does not condemn the value of disagreement, he does make a strong case for the notion that we tend to miss out on crucial details when our main goal is to find what’s wrong with people’s arguments and assertions. Even when the ability to detect flaws is needed, that ability is enhanced, not compromised, when we take time to understand the positions we critique.

In The Complexity of Contextual Communication, the philosopher Ravi Zacharias wrote:

“Often audiences are subjected to a barrage of ideas that betray more the pet peeve or preoccupation of the speaker than they do the intention of the text. Any text wrenched from its context is in danger of becoming a pretext.”

I work as an administrator/content manager for several Facebook pages devoted to spreading inspirational messages through the sharing of quotes from various influencers throughout history.  On a daily basis, I get to observe dozens of different ways in which people react to quotes and quips. Here are some real examples:

Quote: “Let go and let God.”

User comment: Well, actually, you can’t LET God do anything. He’s God and, therefore, doesn’t need your permission. This is a very arrogant statement. It should be ‘humble yourself and obey God.”

Mean-spirited sarcastic words I’ve been tempted to say: Oh wow! Thanks for enlightening all of us. I had no idea how arrogant I was being when I told people this. Thanks for letting me know that I do not have the power to control God’s decisions. Because, prior to you educating me, I actually believed that God needed my permission in order for him to be God. And screw the whole idea about this just being a metaphorical way of saying, ‘make peace with the things you can’t control.” I’m just so relieved to know that I don’t have to do God’s job anymore, that I’m too overwhelmed by my gratitude for you to even care about anything else.

Quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

User comment: “uhmm, no it’s not. If you have a vivid imagination, but you don’t know what you’re talking about, then that makes you a crazy person.”

Mean-spirited sarcastic words I’ve been tempted to say: I wish Einstein was alive to hear you say this because he probably would have accepted quantum mechanics before he died if your wisdom was around to save him from his delusional thinking. Can you imagine how much smarter Einstein would have been if he wasn’t under the impression that it’s okay to be ignorant as long as you know how to fantasize? In fact, I’m starting to lose my respect for Albert altogether. How could he have missed that? What was he thinking?

Quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

User comment: You can’t create positive change just by “being” a better person. You have to get out there and challenge people. You have to get in people’s faces and shake things up if you want to get stuff done.”

Mean-spirited sarcastic words I’ve been tempted to say: Amen to that, Buddy. Boooo Ghandi. What a dork. What has he accomplished anyway? Maybe had he focused more on doing some actual work instead of just sitting around and “being” all the time, he could have created some changes in the real world. Thanks for keeping it real.

Quote: “Never, never, never give up.”

User comment: WRONG! If you’re doing something stupid, you should stop.

Mean-spirited sarcastic words I’ve been tempted to say: I know, right? I literally hate Winston Churchill for being so one-dimensional in his philosophy that he would actually encourage people to keep doing whatever it is they are doing REGARDLESS of whether it’s good or not? Why would anybody even listen to this guy? The only reason quotes like this survive for so long is because people refuse to think. Thanks to you, I’m not only going to start using my brain, but I’ll also stop encouraging people to do stupid stuff.

I could go on and on with examples like these.

As you can see from some of the reactions I’ve had in my head, I sometimes  feel annoyed by people’s opinions.

There are moments when I see these types of comments and I just want to give people a lecture on the basics of reading comprehension and the principle of charitable interpretation.

Sometimes, I just want to scream, “You idiot!!! You missed the whole point.”

And that’s when I realize that I’m the one who needs to give it five minutes.

Perhaps it’s ME, not THEM, who’s guilty of misunderstanding.

Perhaps it’s ALL OF US who are guilty of misunderstanding.

Perhaps it’s neither.

Perhaps there are understandings that transcend ALL of our dichotomies, differences. and disagreements.

Whatever the possibilities may be, I am convinced of the following:

There’s no deadline on disagreement.

In most cases, we have nothing to lose by taking our time when assessing other people and the ideas they espouse.

Even when we feel others are wrong; even when we feel others are not listening; even when we feel as if the world is going to crumble if we don’t save the planet from erroneous thinking, there is great power, tremendous influence, and a higher quality of understanding that awaits those who can learn the art of disagreeing with discernment, diplomacy, and discretion.

In the words of Levar Burton, taken from the best show ever aired on Television (reading rainbow), “don’t take my word for it.” If you have five minutes, you can read Jason Fried’s excellent post for yourself. You’ve read my reaction. Take five minutes and tell me yours.

On another note, if you’re a busy person and you don’t have time for all this “give it five minutes” stuff, there’s an alternative perspective advocated by Rainn Wilson, from “The Office”, and it’s ten times funnier than anything I can write. Plus, he says it in less than two minutes. In fact after watching him in this video, I think I’m going to go delete all my inspirational pages from Facebook now.


T.K. Coleman

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. In our fast paced, modern society it would be a welcome development if we strove to be the fastest to ponder and consider new ideas. I must include myself here, especially in one-on-one encounters. I do much better in written situations where it’s easy to walk away and get a drink while thinking. Viewing disagreement as art rather then an urgent precursor to war is a good first step. Let us allow ideas to linger a little longer rather then immediately pushing back and stomping them out. I read the other post (excellent, as was this one) and watched the video (quite funny, though it gave me nervous chills in that I’ve met many who’ve acted the same). I also keep going back to that cat picture. The instant I saw him his demeanor suggested Winston Churchill.

  2. I suppose we all struggle with this issue. The more seriously we consider ideas
    in our lives, the more dearly we hold onto them. Then our healthier need to
    be consistent may transform into rigidity.

    Sounds like we’re being urged to concentrate on the speech, not the speaker.
    To spend the necessary time to understand what is actually being said. There
    is a simplicity and a complexity to many things spoken and written. And to go
    back to James Baldwin’s observation that we’re revealing more about
    ourselves in our responses, than who we are responding to.

    So…if a lunatic yells out of an asylum window that 2+2=4, is he wrong?

    I’ve often (quickly) revised my original reaction to a post or spoken thought upon the rereading or repeating of it. Broadening my field of perception.
    Trying to understand the context and the underlying premise/s. Perhaps
    that’s how I count to three or take five.

    I’ll have an emotional reaction, but I’m asking myself “Is it appropriate?” I find
    that this becomes easier and more automatic with time. I’ve practiced this
    because I can be stubborn. And I try to distinguish this from being determined.

    There is a (newer) branch of epistemology referred to as psychoepistemology,
    which studies, not the ideas themselves, but how we hold our ideas. I believe
    that humans start with one of two primary motivations: either fear or a desire
    to know.

    Many are a mixture of both—but the primary motivation will determine which
    direction will predominate. If we hold our ideas through fear, even if some are
    correct, we’ll react defensively, perhaps even with hostility. If we hold our ideas
    through a desire to know, we can work this out and find a way.

    “There’s no deadline on disagreement. In most cases, we have nothing to lose
    by taking our time when assessing other people and the ideas they espouse.”

    Read all the links. Lots to ponder. As usual.

    As for the cat: Don’t they always disagree? If you tell a dog what to do, he
    takes notes. A cat will look at you with disdain and walk away.

    The religious scholar in this link is Reza Aslan and he is being interviewed by a
    Fox correspondent who made the mistakes you are talking about in this10 minute video. Fox is trying to view this as a “Spirited Debate.” Yikes!

  3. I greatly appreciate this concept… I actually tend to often avoid reading comments on Inspirational quotes and the such because I find some people deliberately argumentative and it gets me riled… I then can go on a tangent that is more emotional than logical (this is one of my biggest downfalls)… Besides why would I chose to suck the joy, encouragement, and insight I had just found in the quote from myself by allowing some-one else’s bad mood, bad manners or whatever their issue may be to affect me?
    I am still learning to walk away in the real world… but letting go is a valuable lesson, and I am slowly but surely getting there.

    1. I totally hear you. I’ve often gone back and forth with this whole business of responding to people. Sometimes, I’ve just decided to ignore all comments rather than lose focus on what it most important to me. I guess it all comes down to knowing what we can handle and establishing healthy boundaries. Differences are not worth losing our health over…that’s for sure. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, by the way.

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