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Carter Harkins

Chief Storyteller, Harkins Creative

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Is there an indispensable person or group in your life with whom you frequently disagree? How has this made you a better person?

The culture wars rage on every day in the news and in online comment threads. We hurl invective and criticism without regard for the fact that most of this kind of "discourse" actually only causes each of us to become further entrenched in our ideas and beliefs. At worst it can push us into even more extreme positions, believing that the emotion we feel justifies our deeper schisms.

Maybe you have been lucky enough to have a person or group who has taught you the value of disagreement in the presence of real engagement and commitment to understanding. If so, I hope you'll share how this kind of interaction has strengthened, sharpened and equipped you to argue and disagree in world-changing ways, in ways that foster community and overcome ignorance (your own, as well as the other's).

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    Aug 16 2012: Great Qs, Carter.

    There are many with whom I disagree. All, in different ways, make me a better person.

    Two young men come to mind, as I've been reflecting on an encounter I had with them recently. Which gave me bracing lessons in a subject I claim some "expertise" in: civil discourse. What's powerful is how they demonstrated my own theories about the impact of reflected reactivity in social settings.

    Here's what happened:
    We were playing basketball at adjacent nets. They with a large group of teen boys, me alone, save for two preschoolers who were moving between my net and a shorter one nearby, where other little ones were also playing.

    When the testosterone-fueled pack began blasting through the preschoolers, my impulse to protect the little kids triggered an angry exchange between me and the boys. After calmly urging them to be careful a couple of times, I ended up literately coming after the teens, who'd continued to ignore me. Instead of moving away, they'd become more aggressive. And, so did I.

    So, there I was screaming as I sprinted at them--physically protecting the little kids by blocking the big ones from them. The teens got the message, but as they scurried to a different court, they were laughing. Presumably at my reaction. Which didn't help cool me down.

    Now I was chasing them. A wise young man who hadn't seen the earlier display intervened. He'd only seen me swearing and calling the others bullies. His method worked to an extent. I calmed down a bit. But still was too far over the edge to let the aggressors off that easily. And, I also wanted to defend what little dignity I had left.

    Rather than explain my reasons, I turned to the teens, demanding they explain why. They answered: "Because you were worried about the little kids."

    The next day the leader of the bullies shook my hand. Since then we've had great talks about how easy it is for anyone to lose compose. And, how powerful empathy and "social contagions" can be.

    Andrea
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      Aug 16 2012: For those of us who work on civil discourse, any interaction, I find, provides such learning opportunities. Yours is a great story.
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        Aug 18 2012: I completely agree. Those who not have the opportunity of being contradicted, they have less chances for learning to live.

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