What Is the Hardest Way to Disagree with Someone?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Seth Godin recently wrote a great blog post on the ways we disagree with other people. He first describes three easy ways to disagree, and then gives the fourth more difficult way.

The easiest way to disagree with someone “is to assume that they are uninformed, and that once they know what you know, they will change their mind. (A marketing problem!)”

This is generally my default position when I see someone disagreeing with me. If we can just get the facts straight, then we will agree. That’s my going-in position. If  the subject of disagreement is fairly simple and limited in scope, then this assumption works out for me. Otherwise, not so much.

Godin continues:

The second easiest way to disagree is to assume that the other person is a dolt, a loon, a misguided zealot who refuses to see the truth. Their selfish desire to win interferes with their understanding of reality. (A political problem!)

I generally don’t resort to thinking this way unless I see that the person I’m talking to is taking extreme positions regardless of the evidence. I wrote a post recently on hyper-skepticism that relates to this way of disagreement.

Godin explains that the “third easiest way to disagree with someone is to not actually hear what they are saying. (A filtering problem!)”

I really try hard, myself, to not do this. I have to admit, though, that when a person comes on the blog and only ever disagrees with everything I say, that after a while, I find it harder and harder to listen to anything they say. Some skeptics have complained to me that I don’t answer them or listen to them, but I can’t help it. Put yourself in my place. What would you do?

Finally, Godin comes to the hardest way to disagree with someone.

The hardest way to disagree with someone is to come to understand that they see the world differently than we do, to acknowledge that they have a different worldview, something baked in long before they ever encountered this situation. (Another marketing problem, the biggest one).

This insight is pure gold. I have found time and time again that when someone is disagreeing with me – even when we have the same facts, even when we are both being reasonable, even when we are both listening to each other – that there is a profound difference in our worldviews. We simply see everything in the world very differently from each other.

Let’s face it. Changing someone’s worldview is extraordinarily difficult and takes a massive time investment. That is why I am thankful that God is in the business of radical change. Without the Holy Spirit moving in people’s lives, the work of evangelism would be pointless and fruitless. It is really, really, hard to change people’s worldviews without supernatural intervention.

  • Great post bill. One of the things I like to try to do when I talk to Christians is to find the real source of our disagreement, to really dig down to the core and find out where we disagree. As you can imagine, this is a very rare thing, but it is great when we can actually understand each other’s points of view a little bit better. Obviously changing someone’s mind would be a wonderful thing, but a more realistic goal is to simply understand one another better.

  • Understanding another person is so difficult sometimes, that most of us just give up and start lobbing rocks at them.

  • sean

    In general conversation, I think that either someone has more facts or doesn’t have the facts I have. If I don’t know the person well then I make no presumption either way. If I know them fairly well I can assume who has more information, but I am very willing to listen and am not all that surprised (just mildly so) if they do indeed have more information, even if they generally don’t. But this only applies to the more bland topics that are not so controversial. those tend to be the easiest. (This, I think, pretty much lines up with your definition of the first instance of the marketing problem)

    When the conversation shifts to either politics or religion, I think both sides tend to be more prone to talking past one another. They maybe hear what the other person is saying, but don’t bother to address it because the really important stuff is the stuff they know, and if only the other person would just stop talking past them and listen they’d understand too. (This seems like what’s being described by the filtering problem) I think though, that this tends to be tied to the worldview. Those things that Seth has described as different ways, are in my experience, mostly if not entirely, just two sides of the same coin. People ground most, if not all, of their beliefs on core beliefs that we call a worldview. I agree, this is very difficult to get someone to change.

    I don’t think I have ever personally experienced the loon description. I’m sure those conversations probably happen though. I don’t think I’d characterize any conversations I’ve had by that though. I’d say that even the comments on your hyper-skepticism are really more categorized under the worldview problem.

    I do thank you Bill for bringing this to my attention. I too think this is good insight. I don’t know that I would consider it a golden revelation, because on some level I was already aware of the fact that most disagreements about politics and religion are based on worldview misalignments. That said, this was still quite helpful to me. In my writing of this comment, I realize just how guilty I am of that which I described in my second paragraph. I am absolutely accusing myself of that one, and didn’t really appreciate how it comes off and what it really does in the context of a conversation. I’ll try to look out for it more in the future.

    I’ll end with a thought/questions for you to think about. Answer if you’d like, but certainly don’t be too hasty about it. Do you think that other worldviews can lead to some good outcomes (good meaning aligned with good in your worldview). As an example, do you think that starting with a secular worldview we could agree that murder should be outlawed? As followup, which worldview do you think America should be legislating from as a nation, and what worldview do you think was intended by the founders of this nation. More specifically (since obviously it’s not going to be Hinduism or Taoism) would you regard America as a secular nation in its founding? Would you regard our legal system as secularly grounded? Or would you say it’s Christian. Or something else? Certainly some of the Founding Fathers were Christian, but some were not. What’s you opinion about what was intended at the start. Finally, and I think most importantly, do you think this nation should be grounded as a secular nation, or as a Christian one? Or, again, in some third ay I have not mentioned. Feel free to ask for clarification if I’m not making sense.

  • bbrown

    Re. the questions about the Founders:

    The overwhelming influence on the Founders was their Christian faith. There were a few Deists among them, but the majority were Orthodox and Evangelical Christians, and in their voluminous writings, letters, and documentation, they refer to this frequently and naturally. Of course, Madison, and many others stated that the new constitution would never work for a people who did not adhere to the tenets of the Christian faith.

    The founders’ fear was based on their belief in Original Sin: Humans are by nature self-serving and prone to corruption, and they devised every possible means for the limitation of vice by means of the branches, checks and balances, etc.

    Their solution was ultimately not in law but in personal virtue. Their Senate was both a Roman name and venue for the Roman vision of the statesman, particularly Cincinnatus, who left his farm to serve (not rule) and then returned to it when his service was over. The Founders did not see government as a profession but rather as a burden and obligation. The founders wanted reluctant rulers.

    They also wanted virtuous rulers. Specifically they lauded Christian virtue: courage, prudence, kindness to the weak, honoring friendship, resolution with enemies. The founders knew that the virtues of common sense ought not be analyzed until they lose their vigor and die. They did not want philosopher-kings; they wanted citizens of simple, clear virtues, who served reluctantly and left gladly, pursued their passions but were blocked by the system from imposing their idiosyncratic vision, pursued the ends of the Constitution’s preamble, and were
    contained by the checks and balances that
    would frustrate the personal and ideological ambitions of others.

    We’ve slowly discarded there vision; the most violence to the Constitution and damage to our national well-being having been inflicted by Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, and Obama. Amity Schlaes has done some good work on these topics and I recommend her excellent recent books.


  • sean

    I don’t know how you get to co-opt “courage, prudence, kindness to the weak, honoring friendship, resolution with enemies” as Christian. Cannot those be a virtue to other worldviews as well? Also, don’t forget the landowning. That’s a “virtue” they wanted government officials to have.

    Also, I don’t understand what you mean by “Their solution was ultimately not in law.” If the solution is the constitution, the constitution is not in law? I’m not understanding something here.

    Also, I’m dubious of your claims of Madison. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Madison say, “Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.” That doesn’t seem to agree with the statement that the Constitution doesn’t work for non-Christians.