So That We May Better Understand Each Other

It is often taken as an article of faith by many people that disagreements will cease when we all better understand each other.  In many ways this is precisely the opposite of the truth.  Often, peace can only be preserved through ambiguity.  That is, after all, why our political processes function the way that they do.  The ideal courtier of the Renaissance era was advised to cultivate a deceptive air by which immense effort was disguised as apparent indolence, and courtiers have always been known to shade the truth to avoid offending powerful but often ignorant and mistaken monarchs [1].  Nor have democratic regimes proven to be any more honest and open when it comes to dealing with disagreements, as conflicts are routinely papered over in vague language that can mean contrary things to different people and where compromising and a lack of moral integrity have given our own politicians a substantial amount of dishonor in an age of increasing conflict.

Institutions very often have people within them of differing goals but with a shared commitment to the well-being of the institution as a whole.  This ought not to surprise us.  Let us consider the example of the smallest institutions most of us work with on a regular basis, namely our families.  Let us consider how much disagreement exists within a small nuclear family–husbands and wives have their own backgrounds, their own lives, and their own interests which are often at variance with each other.  If they have children, still more interests and perspectives and disagreements will be added to this.  When we put this nuclear family in the context of work life, extended family connections, as well as their involvement in other institutions like churches, then the potential for massive and complex disagreements exists in an institution composed of only a few people.  This becomes multiplied when we look at companies or churches or political communities, which feature a diverse array of individual and group interests all competing for scarce resources and for the power to legitimize their own positions and perspectives.  The wonder is not that there is so much conflict and disagreement in our world but that we are able to smooth over difficulties enough to get along as well as we do as often as we do.

A large part of that success is due to the fact that much of the time we realize that even if we are different from each other and even opposed to each other that we are often better together than we are separate.  Those of us who are skeptical about these truths can look to the melancholy experiences of our own lives for all of the confirmation we need.  Shall we consider the grinding poverty and immense waste of resources in duplication of efforts to keep up a household and the attempt to buy the love of children that results from divorce?  Shall we look at the bad blood and proliferation of similar evangelistic efforts that occur when churches divide into nearly identical but quarreling splinter groups?  Or let us look at the hostility and waste and destruction that results from civil wars and rebellions that fragment people and leave them frequently unable to unite for common purposes or against common foes, to the greater detriment of us all.  Even if we are people with a low degree of trust in the goodness and competence of others, our self-interest should be strong enough for us to realize that if we wish to encourage our own well-being that it is vital that we not depend on our own resources alone.

And so we are immediately faced with a dilemma.  We understand that we are different from those around us, often in ways that greatly annoy and irritate us.  We understand that we have different interests from others and so any claim of ours to rule them will be met by some degree of resistance, as will any attempts by others to exercise authority over us.  Yet at the same time we recognize that we must work together in some fashion.  How are we to do so?  Perhaps unsurprisingly we find the same small set of solutions being used over and over again.  Where conflicts are particularly serious, we see explicit covenants and treaties and constitutions being spelled out to provide an open acknowledgement of differences as well as the design of institutions to resolve them, as well as the intense effort to increase trust between different parties and groups.  On a more informal level, we see a modus vivendi that allows people to live together in an absence of open conflict through a certain degree of tact and avoidance.  If we are skilled in such matters, we make peace in an atmosphere of mutual concern and respect.  If we are less skilled we seek to make truces or armistices of as long a period as we can, knowing that there are differences but trusting to time to increase the goodwill between parties.  If we are still less skilled we may desire unity and cooperation but have no idea of how to attain it, and simply bemoan the disunity and conflict which we hate but somehow contribute greatly to in our own lives and institutions.

Understanding where we come from and where others are coming from does not make conflicts go away.  Sometimes, often, it merely puts those conflicts and disagreements in sharper relief.  The differences between us are not of a superficial nature but are deeply profound.  Often what we want from others and from our institutions and what others and institutions want from us are simply impossible to fulfill.  How to manage these disagreements can become an intense problem.  Institutions may, for example, choose to informally put up with those who are difficult to deal with because their skills and abilities and knowledge are so obviously useful.  Likewise, people with less power in institutions like families and businesses may put up with a great deal of what they dislike in institutions because of the resources those institutions provide, but without being happy or content about it.  Understanding these disagreements does not make them go away, but may even make the problems worse because what was dealt with informally and with a wink and a nod and with a certain amount of deliberate ignorance is now brought forcefully and unpleasantly into the light.  We may put up with a great deal informally and casually that we will never put up with if we are directly confronted with it.  And for us to live together and work together at all, we must put up with a lot.  Think of what others must put up with to get along with us, after all.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, Love & Marriage, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to So That We May Better Understand Each Other

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Middle East | Edge Induced Cohesion

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