Saturday June 9, 2007
In hotter countries, disagreement is a kind of national sport. It’s a bit like football without the ball: just people shouting at each other for no good reason. In this country, though, the most common way of disagreeing with someone is to say you agree with them wholeheartedly and then make sure you never see them again.
We tend to avoid disagreements in public in case our finely honed arguments are met with a finely honed knife. Instead, we’ve developed the anti-disagreement phrase, “Fair enough.” In longhand, this means, “If you want to believe that kind of rubbish and embarrass yourself every time you open your mouth, then good luck to you.”
One of the quickest ways of promoting disagreement is to start a sentence with the phrase, “I think you’ll agree.” Similarly, you can get almost instantaneous agreement by starting with, “I don’t expect you to agree with this for one moment.”
Disagreements are often over facts or things, and who is in possession of them. That’s why Buddhists, who don’t do possessions, rarely disagree with anyone. However, that might be because sitting cross-legged is the worst position to disagree from.
Some people get real pleasure out of saying, “No, I don’t agree” after virtually any innocuous statement. This is a ploy, so they can re-start the conversation on their terms. It’s like having the last word first.
A great way of saying you disagree with someone is to say, “I don’t disagree but …” or, “You’re right, but …” In fact, saying “but” after anything is a clear indicator that you disagree – for example, “Clearly, Archie Gemmill was the world’s greatest footballer, but …” Highly trained disagreeers, however, will use the word “and” instead of “but” – this gives the impression that they’re building on your excellent first suggestion when really they’re adding a contrary and much more powerful suggestion of their own.
Business people are trained to invite disagreement. After you’ve told them their idea is pants, they’ll say something like, “I welcome your challenge.” The real meaning of this is, “Your career is over.”
There is nothing in the world so small or insignificant that two human beings can’t find a way of disagreeing about it. That said, someone, somewhere will probably disagree.