I actually wanted to share multiple interesting things I came across recently, but this single book review was more than sufficient a post by itself (which really shows how much I like this book), so here goes a post dedicated to “The Art of Productive Disagreement”!
I love this book for all the wise perspectives, apt metaphors, useful tips, and interesting examples. It sheds light on not just how to have open, candid conversations, but also on how we can be more embracing towards different perspectives in general.
As an Arts and Social Science student, I see the silhouettes of concepts/ideas from disciplines like Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology in the perspectives used, yet they are explained in a way that is extremely engaging and easy to understand.
I am not really doing the book justice with the cherry-picking that I am doing in this post, so I would really recommend reading the book for a fuller picture. Any way, I’ll list down here some of the many quotes/ advice that I love from the book, just for a quick sharing 🙂
Firstly, one of the most fundamental opinion the author gives:
Wise Advice #1:
“If we unfold our one-dimensional understanding, we’ll see that a simple generalisation like ‘arguments are good’ or ‘arguments are bad’ won’t suffice. It obscures the surprising variety of arguments that closer inspection reveals.”
We very naturally associate “arguments” with “unhappiness”, “hindrance”, “anger”, so on and forth, but it is not difficult to realise that this is an easy generalisation that our brain makes, just like what it does with other stereotypes regarding race, gender etc. Therefore, the first step to managing arguments, is to embrace it with the understanding that arguments come in diverse forms, and that they can be, counter-intuitively, productive and beneficial. There is so much that can be elaborated from here, but I’ll just throw in some of the quotes again to illustrate this point:
“Arguments perform a crucial and underappreciated job for us by waving a flag that something important to us is being endangered, whether it’s a personal preference, a hunch about the best strategy for meeting a goal, or a core value of ours.”
“Conflict is inevitable when two or more people speak about things from their unique perspectives. Disagreements are also signs that the relationshio’s soil is healthy.”
Wise Advice #2:
“Our cultural obsession with short term wins is often the reason why many pressing problems exist in the first place”
This relates to how we often seek short term resolutions to conflicts and end up breeding more problems in the long run. Because if dissonance and disagreements are not properly addressed, they will simply resurface and escalate more quickly the next time. And if you think about it, this doesn’t just apply to conflicts between people. This is at the heart of many pressing issues we face around the world – poverty, inequality, climate change etc.
This mindset of striving for quick resolutions is also especially prominent in relationships. A lot of times, when major conflicts arise, we have the tendency to shut them down, avoid them, or even if we face them properly, we tend to think that the argument ends when the two person patches up. But the truth is that, arguments as such rarely ends. Many arguments are often manifestations of our diverging experiences, values and worldviews, and thus, even as one argument ends and the differences seem to iron out slightly, the difficulty/ inertia for change will give arise to other arguments, disguised as single, disparate conflicts. So, as what the author mentions, the truth to conflict resolution in relationships is that “we have to cobble together compromises at regular intervals to bridge the gaps – there is no long-lasting solutions.”
Wise Advice #3:
“In discussing highly polarising issues, we will sometimes demonize people who claim to hold a view we believe is truly unacceptable.”
A lot of times, the instinctive, emotional part of our brain jumps to conclusions that demonize the person we strongly disagree with, without processing through their piece of opinion thoroughly. At the very moment that we lose empathy and understanding for the other person, we start forming stereotypes, creating unfair caricatures, and even tend to attack them personally.
This habit is, in some way, a built-in tendency for biasness, as our brain is designed to reduce the amount of energy we spend thinking and making decisions. But it is not difficult to realize the downsides of such “efficient” thinking – we shun opportunities of gaining insights from other perspectives, become more demeaning or parochial than we intend to be, and fail to add nuance to our own opinions.
This really reminds me of the realization I had last semester regarding essays and perspectives in general. One of my favourite professor changed how I view essays drastically, by really convincing me that it is always better to put opinions that you disagree on in the most charitable light possible. He always says: it is easy to shoot down a Straw-man argument, but there is not much point to that.
Reading the other opinion charitably means that no matter how dogmatic or biased the other opinion is, you will always dig up the sources of dissonance, evaluate the underlying assumptions and caveats, research on other similar viewpoints, and extract valuable insights from there.
The result is a more nuanced and cogent argument, formulated with the consideration of the most persuasive arguments from the other side. And in this process of research, you would often discover new vantage points, from which you can look at the issue from a more comprehensive perspective. After all, while we’d like to think that the other opinions are dogmatic, we may have been quite biased in our own opinions, and lost sight of the bigger picture as well.
In general, I would say that this is a really good read for anyone who wants to learn how to better manage arguments/conflicts, or simply to gain interesting/ inspiring perspectives. I personally found the book helpful in formulating my own worldview, and I would give it a 11/10!