Maria Goff Shares Some Rules for Civil Disagreement

disagreement advice

In the grand search we all have for mentors, Maria Goff’s voice is one we’re glad to have close by.

Last summer we wondered about the concept of “unfollowing,” not just on social media but in all the ways we can disengage from our relationships offline. Why does the sting of disagreement stick in our minds, even if we shrug it as being about something pretty trivial?

Is it?

We asked Maria, and she wrote to us in Darling Issue 20. We’re sharing a bit of her letter below.

Unfollow

Written by Maria Goff

Dear Darlings,

I have a friend with whom I disagreed today. It wasn’t a big thing, really, but it felt like an important thing. It happens to all of us every day. We have an idea, a point of view or an opinion that we share with someone, and they just don’t agree at all. There are a host of reasons for why we see things differently, not the least of which is that we’re all very different. Frankly, with as varied as we are, it’s a little surprising that we don’t disagree about more.

The reason we disagree is simple. We’ve experienced life differently. Different things have become important to us. We have different successes and failures. We all have different blind spots, too.

diasgreement 2

There are 7.5 billion of us on Earth. We are thrown together on a spinning planet moving through space at 67,000 mph, and everyone’s ideas come in a little different color. The result can either be a beautiful expression of spin art or a really big mess. We can’t control how all of the colors will run together, but we can manage how we react to each other when they do.

There are plenty of people with whom to disagree – everyone, actually.

Disagreeing with strangers or with an organization is easy. We don’t know them, and they don’t know us. That’s the Junior Varsity team of conflict. Where it gets tricky is when we disagree with someone who is a friend. Then, we’re playing on the Varsity team. It’s never the disagreement that defines us; it’s what we do next that does.

When my kids were little, they built a “town” in the trees behind the house. They would spend hours buying and selling leaves and small pieces of bark to each other. When they weren’t doing this, the rest of their time was spent perched on the upper branches, deciding who was the town doctor, who was the mayor and, most importantly, who was going to be the sheriff.

If anyone broke one of the rules, the sheriff would lock the offender up in the town jail. This happened a lot.

Some of the games we play when we’re young shape how we interact with the world when we grow up. We trade tree forts for platforms, leaves and bark for positions and opinions and our imaginations for careers. The townspeople in our lives change and so do the sheriffs. Our towns aren’t in the limbs anymore, but sometimes, we need to interact with the person in the tree next to us.

It’s never the disagreement that defines us; it’s what we do next that does.

Many of these people are kind and caring and sensitive, and few aren’t. Handling disagreements with humble and loving people is easy, but if you want a report card on your life, take a look at how you are dealing with the people who aren’t easy to get along with.

We can be kind and courageous and loving. It’s how we want people to deal with us. It’s who all of us really want to be. To be sure, it’s the most difficult of the ways in which we can deal with disagreements, but we can only take people as far as we’ve gone ourselves. Put kindness and courage and love in your toolbox, and reach for them often when you find people with whom you disagree.

Disagreements are going to happen. They are something as old as time. Are there some people who just aren’t safe for you to be around and from whom you should stay away? You bet. Some trees grow better when they’re planted a little farther apart. You’ll know who these people are. If there are a lot of them, it might be time to do some gardening around your tree fort. Your roots will go deeper, and your limbs will grow wider each time you do.

If you want a report card on your life, take a look at how you are dealing with the people who aren’t easy to get along with.

Don’t let pride play the part of the sheriff and lock you up in the rabbit cage when you have a disagreement. Let kindness, courage and love guide your words and actions – knowing it won’t be the arguments we win that we’ll be remembered for, but the way that we gave away our love.

Sending you love and courage,

Maria Goff

Like this? Find the full essay in Darling Issue 20, now ON SALE for a limited time in our shop HERE.

Images via Mary Fix for Darling Issue 20

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