Earlier in October, a video of Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi seated next to George and Barbara Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game went viral. Quickly, social media was overrun with questions and criticism about the unlikely pair. DeGeneres took time out of her talk show to address the tweets aimed at the couples’ outing, explaining what was made to be some big controversy simply as a friendship. DeGeneres emphasized her ability to be friends with people she doesn’t quite agree with and the importance of accepting the differences we all have, saying, “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
In a world of such polarizing beliefs and opinions, the saying “agree to disagree” is seemingly lost. For many, setting aside personal beliefs for the sake of cordiality would be cowardly or unnecessary. However, without any effort to look past differences, our society would never cease arguing.
Why is it that we desire to argue, though? Argumentativeness is an intrinsically human trait. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory says we get stuck in an immature psychological development where we seek consistency among our beliefs on opinions. We become uncomfortable trying to hold two or more contradictory beliefs or values. Cognitive immunization explains that when being challenged, we believe more strongly in our beliefs. Even when presented with contradictory evidence, we maintain this stubbornness and fight for protection of what we think to be true.
The means in which we handle the confrontation of varying ideas from our own is the problem. People are so quick to act on the discomfort of something that rubs against their own beliefs. Too often argumentation is resolved to a slew of combative language, sticking a flag in the ground against whatever it may be and feeling justified simply for reacting and making their voice known. Then what? If someone agrees, a sense of validation is earned. If someone disagrees, offense is taken and the argument escalates to solely defending one or the other’s opinion. What progress is made? More often than not, neither is left feeling victorious and someone’s feelings probably were hurt. We get so caught up in our own stubbornness that we overlook the benefits of simply listening to the other side of the conversation.
There are ways of discussing issues with varying opinions without the need to sacrifice your own beliefs. Being educated about what you believe is one step. Arguing for the sake of arguing, with no knowledge or investment about what you are discussing, is not productive at all. Also, the motivation for whatever conversation you’re having should be to further explain or justify your own opinion. You shouldn’t approach the discussion with the sole motivation of tearing the other views down and degrading the opposer’s beliefs. Instead, argumentation should be done with the purpose of pursuing your own beliefs in a manner that respects the other side, all the while thoughtfully representing your opinion.
Ad hominem is a logical fallacy which redirects a genuine argument from the main point to instead attacking the character of the person behind the argument. Too often discussions of opposing views result in arguments rooted in personal bias or emotional response. By doing this, we overlook the issue at hand and instead create a greater problem.
We all can learn from Ellen’s emphasis on kindness. When approaching conversations or situations in which your own opinions are challenged, or you’re forced to consider contradictory beliefs or values, do so in a respectful manner. Instead of reacting in a manner which disrespects others and their beliefs, consider more strategic means of conversation. Valuing and respecting the views of others and working to foster healthy conversation and communication can make instances of differing viewpoints productive, rather than damaging.