Agree to Disagree, Please!

Agree to Disagree, Please!
The most private and secret space we humans are blessed with, is our mind. It ably conceals all our thoughts that lurk in it, comfortably tucked away in the depths of consciousness where no one can access them. As long as these remain hidden all is fine, but the moment these leak out into the world they are greeted with appreciation, disgust or confrontation. History is witness to a threat that is many times more damaging than weapons of mass destruction. This threat is none other than the most lethal of all weapons which manifests itself in the form of unconventional ideas. Yes, these can give sleepless nights to many, can force the mighty to unleash its wrath upon thinkers, can convert happy dreams of politicians into nightmares, can inspire literati to create award-winning masterpieces, and at times can be muffled into silence through persecution or even death.

From the early days of Socrates, the Greek philosopher better known as the founder of Western philosophy who propounded the ethical tradition of thought for which he was sentenced to death by drinking poison; to the present times, when those who dare question authority or challenge existing norms are either tortured, forced into exile or eliminated. There are innumerable instances of Russian and Chinese dissidents in the last seventy years or so who were hounded by the powerful, sought out in their countries of asylum, their lives rendered miserable and even their families not spared at times.

Undoubtedly, all dissenting ideas are not alarming as these might just be in the nature of academic discourse. Such are conveniently ignored as long as they are confined to the precincts of academia but the moment the powerful feel their pinch in living reality, a reign of terror is set loose to curb revolutionary tendencies as a consequence. In their eagerness to maintain status quo whereby their selfish interests would not be hampered, no criminal action is unjust as long as these enable silencing nonconforming and unorthodox views of the mindful and concerned. No society can flourish or retain its essence where tolerance is absent and there is no room for fresh ideas or opinions. Unfortunately for those who yearn for status quo, their own existence becomes nothing but a stigma and although they lose their physical presence, the dissident theories are remembered forever.

They say that great minds think alike, but the reality is that no two minds can think alike although they may converge on the same conclusion. Differences are responsible for the variety in our life, making it more picturesque as well as formidable. Rainbows look divine with all their seven colored stripes but if they were just white, no one would even notice. Imagine a world in absolute harmony, peace and order. After some time it would appear mundane and life would become monotonous. So clearly, differences are most vital that help to provide the much needed spice in an otherwise humdrum existence. This, however, does not mean that we should engage ourselves in petty tiffs, arguments, and wars, on a more serious note.

The basic trait of civilized people is their ability to settle disputes in a manner that carries the elements of decency, wisdom, circumspection and forbearance as against impudence, verbal and physical skirmishes that the uncouth display in their dealings. Successful negotiation is not about getting to 'yes'; it's about mastering 'no' and understanding what the path to an agreement is,” says Christopher Voss.

Nothing can be as pleasing and desirable as a proper end to a complicated matter preceded by countless hours of debate or even physical encounters. They say that all is well that ends well but there can be certain occasions when parties to a dispute may not agree, parting ways by agreeing to disagree and that is exactly what civility is all about but minus courtesy, the ensuing situation can be quite chaotic—in fact, more destructive than the worst forms of weaponry. The process of disagreement should not be violent nor should it seem revengeful. Killing a person is perhaps not that brutal as eroding the moral values of an entire generation, stripping it of self-confidence, stifling its thought process and subjugating its freedom to choose which is exactly what happens when people get entangled between persons with extremely bloated egos whether it is on the home front or at the national level.

Propriety demands that conflicts between elders or nations are settled amicably, especially when the outcome can affect aspirations and future of the younger lot. There is no harm in disagreeing with the thoughts or opinions others may harbor but this definitely does not imply that these are unreasonable nor does it mean that these are incorrect just because they are not to our liking. Sensibility demands that we learn to appreciate goodness even if it requires crushing one’s pride and thinking beyond our comfort zone. Parents tend to be harsh towards their children who express deviant ideas. Richard Dawkins’ suggests: “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you”.

On a larger scale, the same advice can be given to political leadership when tackling such issues. Instead of aggression, a more somber attitude can lead to better consequences without causing social unrest and upsetting the normal course of life. In the end, human life is precious and takes precedence over material aspects. Carl Sagan beautifully wraps up in the following words: “Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another”.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)