Words We Heard: ‘You can disagree without being disagreeable.’

When my mom doesn’t see eye to eye with someone, she always says, “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.” And for a moment, the other person will quiet down and subtly nod their head, but I can see in both their eyes that neither is happy with the compromise.

This mantra has found its way into my head throughout the course of my life. I’d walk carefully for fear of stepping on people’s toes, silently coursing the waters and weathering the storm of disagreement. People disagree – whether it’s over country music, the hit TV show “Friends,” or a political issue like gun control. But in conversations with family and friends who had varying opinions, I bit my tongue and resorted to nodding up and down like a collector bobblehead. The fear of being ostracized far outweighed my desire to speak up, so I held my breath and hoped for the best.

It wasn’t a trend I thought mattered until I noticed that people stopped asking for my opinion, as they believed I had none.

And I didn’t. My voice had dwindled so much from its lack of use that I couldn’t find it. For years, I’d shied away from conflict and confrontation, and sacrificed my voice as a result.

Then, after a difficult freshman year, it hit me that out of all the abilities and capabilities we humans have, our ability to speak our thoughts and be understood by the people around us is the most valuable.

So why wasn’t I using mine?

The question pummelled me over and over until I stopped fighting it and dove headfirst into writing, switching my major from interior design to creative writing.

It took me awhile to find my opinions, but slowly and surely, I did. Through learning, knowledge, and personal experiences, my voice rekindled. I researched topics that held my interest, and even ones I thought were a little weird (Illuminati, anyone?). Instead of agreeing to reconcile with others, my agreements started to mean something. While it wasn’t something that happened overnight, it grew easier and easier with practice. Writing my thoughts became second nature, and speaking them, well, sometimes that came a little too naturally.

Conflict and confrontation aren’t always bad, and it took me awhile to realize it. While sometimes I still have difficulty saying “no” to people – I’ve given my fair share of numbers to guys just because I felt bad and didn’t want confrontation – I’m improving. And someday, I hope that not only will I have the ability to stand up for myself, but for others, as well.

While it’s all a work in progress, I’ve found that reading the news every day has helped me to know how to not only share my opinions, but back them as well. Additionally, writing five minutes every night about feelings I had throughout the day has helped me review thoughts I didn’t get the chance to share at the moment. If you want to share your opinions more, then hopefully, these small steps can help you, too. But find solace in the fact that you’re not alone, and know that no matter how much you fear being shut down, your opinion is as valid as anyone’s around you.

–Lauren

  • “Being at the table was the start, but then I had to learn not to be afraid to disagree and share my opinion. Don’t be afraid to lose your spot at the table, because if you start agreeing just to agree, then you’re just a wasted seat for a voice that we need.” –Michelle Obama at “A Moderated Conversation with Michelle Obama” in Indianapolis

  • “[The] classroom discussions often felt like the place where professors expected me to get used to the reality of a ‘best bad option,’ move on, and learn how to navigate strategically through the devastating truths that, well, policymakers’ hands are just tied most of the time and there just aren’t good options. We have to focus on what is best for Americans. Sometimes, bombs have to be dropped. Sometimes, drones are the only option. But, based on my news app alerts, it sure seemed to me like those ‘sometimes’ were far too frequent.” –Kathryn Lundstrom in an article for Conscious Magazine  

  • “I learned the importance of thoroughly understanding all sides of an issue and treating everyone with dignity and respect. My mantra has been, ‘You can disagree without being disagreeable.’” –Councilwoman Amy Murray in an interview with Women of Cincy

  • “The other side is to live as a creator. This is actual freedom, and that is what I believe most entrepreneurs are actually seeking. While it can seem dazzling to be able to expand your income however you like as your own boss, the real joy in this experience is the freedom to be, do, and have that which is uniquely you… If you’re not where you want to be in life and you desire to be in a different place, there is something that you are not taking responsibility for.” –Michelle Andersen, entrepreneur, designer, and personal coach in a blog post for Aviatra Accelerators  

  • “I struggle with the idea of avoiding uncomfortable books altogether. Uncomfortable books make you think. They challenge the reader. They spark conversations – especially the difficult ones. When we say reading encourages compassion and critical thinking, empathy and civil discourse, uncomfortable books often are behind these benefits.” –Hillary Copsey in a Make America Read newsletter