Constructive Disagreement

As we trudge along toward the November election, I’m sensing as I cruise social media and chat up my neighbors, a crushing fatigue with divisiveness itself. Bashing the Libs/MAGAs/NWLs/Whoevers doesn’t FIX anything. It saps our energy for grappling with even issues we can almost all agree need serious attention–homeless veterans, gun safety reform, or climate change, for example (and those are three areas of broad consensus among all voters, by the way).

We get so blinded by labels that we lose the ability to debate ideas independent of the people espousing them. Conflict expert Julia Dhar’s TED talk does a great job of unpacking how to separate identity from idea, and focus instead on the start of all constructive debates–the big areas of broad agreement. One exercise she suggests for limbering up our “start with agreement” muscle is to think of a topic on which we have changed our minds.

Welp, lessee… When I started doing child welfare law, I thought social workers were without question a good resource to involve in a troubled family’s situation. Good social workers know good stuff–about community programs, about how to discuss hard things without riling the people involved, about how family problems become a Rubik’s cube of can’t afford, don’t know how, and too beat down to try again. Send in the social workers!

I wasn’t all wrong and I still think social workers are a great idea. But when a community’s default response to an unsupervised child or wandering grannie is merely to dial a hotline, the whole concept of community, much less neighborhood or family, is weakened. There’s a balance to strike, between we are all in this together, and knowing when problems should be put into the hands of the professionals.

It took me a while to see that having that emergency hotline is a good thing–but it can come at a subtle and far-reaching cost. If it’s social services’ problem (or the cops’, or the HOA’s) it is no one person’s job, and the nature and quality of the solution becomes immediately limited by the institution called in to deal with it.

I came to see much of the child welfare system in the same skeptical light. I went into the task thinking I had some solid answers, but closer acquaintance with reality turned my answers into questions. I was a better child advocate for that leavening of skepticism. I had a more open and creative mindset, and when is that ever a bad thing?

When have you changed your mind, or come to see a hard answer as a less than perfect solution? To three commenters, I’ll send $25 Amazon gift cards, because the holidays are coming, and we have all been so very good this year.

(Which reminds me… This month’s Deal is a Republished Regency holiday novella duet for $1.99 in the webstore. Details here.)


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19 comments on “Constructive Disagreement

    • That is a sticky wicket, isn’t it? My knee-jerk response initially was, “Nooooo!” but then I watched my dad endure 18 months of hospice, missing my mother, his friends all dead, his nonagenarian body disengaging ever so slowly… He kept saying he was ready to go, and I came to hear that as, “Somebody get me outta here…”
      But nobody did, and on and on it went. Gave me a lot to think about.

  1. I’ve changed my mind about a LOT of things through the years. Mostly those changes came from whatever it was suddenly becoming personal. Sometimes, they came from age, experience and finally gaining wisdom.

    My eldest son has autism and it wasn’t until he HAD to have Medicaid, I saw it for what it is–a solution for those with no other choice for healthcare.

    It wasn’t until my own Mom needed it I became a big fan of Hospice and now recommend it to friends with parents in similar situations.

    I recently found out one of my former singers is Trans (a female becoming male)and while it still makes me uncomfortable, less so since I see it as a good solution for someone I know had been very troubled.

    I’m willing to have my mind changed about the Big Things as well as the small things. In fact, I want to move and evolve!

    • Interesting observation, about an issue moving from theoretical to personal. That’s probably why a viral pandemic has aroused so much passion. Every time I get a sniffle, I’m on the edge of my seat, hoping it’s allergies… And who goes for an entire year without getting even a sniffle?
      I hope I’m willing to have my mind changed, but I do have biases, and I have a lawyer’s ability to argue. Sometimes, I become on very stuck bear, I’m sure.

  2. Hmmm, so many broad strokes things. I was raised in one political party, and am heavily NOT anywhere near that party’s beliefs (haven’t been for decades).
    I was raised in one faith, and changed to another several decades ago, and am now culturally of that faith as well without being a true believer.
    I think we will be coming to many hard choices in the coming few years as we grapple with the health and economic outcomes for covid, and believe me, I don’t think there is a good solution, just a “this sucks less” kind of solution waiting for these issues.

    • Interesting, how the family of origin can become the emblem of what we are not. My mom was a cradle Catholic, Dad converted to Catholicism and was far more dogmatic than Mom… Of their seven kids, not a Catholic to be seen (though I do tremendously admire the current Pope).
      I agree with you that we’re probably looking at several years of unexpected adjustments, followed by decades of climate change impacts we didn’t see coming but had better take seriously. A good time to be resilient, compassionate, and creative!

  3. I have changed my mind about many things as I have aged.

    When I was younger I was an idealist. I believed in hard work, community service and the justice system,
    Now, at age 61, I have changed political parties and am hoping to keep my retirements assets in tact during this time of uncertainty.

    I never thought that I could support my family when my husband was laid off at age 55. I worked two jobs and did what I had to do to make it work. Twelve years later, things have changed. No more college and grad school tuition bills, the house is In good repair and the appliances are being replaced one by one.

    I thinks as we get older and experience loss or challenges we learn from them. We grow and gain knowledge and self confidence along the way.

    • There’s a stereotype of older people, as being stuck in the past, inflexible, curmudgeonly, but think your take is the more accurate: Life knocks you around enough, you get some humility and humor. You judge less, you care more. You let go of some hard and fast rules and open your heart. This too–and I too–shall pass.

  4. when the going gets tough ,the tough get going!!!or so I thought. ” we Brits”often are tabled aloof stubborn and arrogant.We stand silent for a while stoic and proud but under the facade we are wanting what most human beings want.A country to live in that is fair and strives for the best to seek the impossible dream and the present crisis comes along and causes a great wobble.We will pick ourselves up and moan all the way but we will defeat this.what with the Brexit battle with France over fishing rights which is getting nasty,I am glad I changed my voting two years ago after voting Labour for most of my life.We are in a sticky patch at present but we will keep our wellies on and stand firm.

  5. A LOT of my ideas have changed and evoled over the years. It’s funny but we were talking about this yesterday at a physically distanced get together with people who work with my husband. When I was a teen and in college, I couldn’t wait to get out in the ‘real world’ and work with ‘grown ups’. You know, mature adults who did the job and weren’t petty – having fun while working would still be a good thing. It didn’t take long for me to realize that while most people are responsible and do their jobs, but there will always be some people who do not – no matter what their age.

    I used to be a total idealist and see most things as black or white. I now realize there are many shades of gray when it comes to ideas, situations, and solutions.

    • My biggest adjustment coming out of college was, “You mean all I GET are evenings and weekends? I have to be at work for everything else–and this will go on for DECADES? That can’t be right!”
      Though in college, I’d worked much more than 40 hours a week, but I didn’t have the long commutes, the on-site lunch hours, the corporate dress codes, the mandatory overtime… I lasted about ten years as a DC commuter, than went into business for myself.

  6. I have changed my mind on many things over the years, and many more times found a nuance and adjusted when the solution proved less than perfect (and of course myself as well). Despite my father being a veteran, because I had a tough time dealing with the military actions going on, as a teen I didn’t want to know anyone in ROTC or active duty. Of course I ended up becoming close friends with an Army MP, and it really helped me see the grey when I had really wanted a simple answer. Thank God our brains keep developing into our 20s.

  7. I was raised by very conservative, “pull up your own bootsraps and get to work and don’t ask for help” kind of parents. I did well in high-school and always felt welcomed by teachers.
    My senior year, I had gone to a Police concert (it was my first ever concert) a week or so before school started and bought a t-shirt. (Just for context, there was drug activity at the concert which was eye-opening and totally shocking to a sheltered girl from the sticks.) I decided to wear my awesome new t-shirt to my first day of senior year.
    Well, I FELT and saw for the first time how other kids were treated… especially the ones that were considered “slackers” or “druggies”. My mind was blown! I realized for the first time that these kids don’t get the support and acceptance they needed to succeed at school. The teachers, even though it was likely subconsciously done, gave a “get away, you’re just a slacker” vibe. I recall vividly how one teacher’s face showed disgust when I came into class.
    I then extrapolated that, if a kid was getting these faces and reactions every day of his school life, how easy it would be to hate school, give up, and also not believe that one could succeed. It would be _intensely_ hard to lift yourself up by your own bootstraps… why bother?
    I also wondered what life at home was like for them. Did they have two parents? Did their parents support them? Were they having to care for younger children or work a job to help the family? What were all the obstacles they faced just to live let alone succeed at school?
    I knew they needed help and someone to believe in them! But, who could do it? My help would be small and insignificant. I hoped I didn’t look down on them before, but going forward, I would NEVER look down on anyone who wasn’t succeeding on their own power. I could offer help when my help was valuable. I could treat everyone as intelligent, resourceful, and important.
    So, BIG mind-blowing experience there.

    • And once your mind has been blown, you aren’t quite so convinced of your own infallibility ever again.
      I was about fourteen when a friend went out for a horseback ride with me. We trotted past an Old Order Mennonite schoolhouse, and the kids came out and laughed and pointed and just had the best time finding us ridiculous. I rode a palomino, a horse no self-respecting Plain person would own, and my friend was on a gray–also considered too flashy by most Amish and Mennonite standards.
      We also rode astride, which Plain people don’t normally do. I had never been an object of ridicule before for something I was normally proud of. I loved my horse, I loved to ride, and those children… Wow, did that bewilder and hurt me. Made me think about bullying, appearances, world view, religion, and what is “funny looking.” Mind blown.

  8. I think Arbitration is a difficult and challenging task. Parties with disagreement seek to avoid court with usually the more powerful party setting up all of the boundaries. It is hard to believe that any individual had the wisdom and experience to render a just and satisfying verdict. Yet this is often the mandated choice. Civil lawsuits are hard too but there is a process. Thank you for your great books!