If you’ve ever met me in person, you’ll know that I’m a conflict-adverse person. Conflict makes me uncomfortable, so by nature, I tend to do whatever I can to diffuse tension and solve conflicts around me.
That being said, I am willing to speak up and defend a conflicting point of view if I feel strongly about it and think it’s worthwhile to share that point of view. This form of disagreement still makes me uncomfortable and because I don’t do it very often, it hasn’t become any less uncomfortable over time.
This semester, I am taking a class that visits a maximum security prison every week and observes a creative writing class for incarcerated men at the prison. Yesterday, I met up with a friend who knows someone—I’ll call her Alice—who observed the same creative writing class during a previous semester.
Now, I’ve personally found my experience observing the class to be a very positive one based on the in-classroom experience and based on what I’ve learned from the teacher during our weekly class debriefs. Alice, however, seemed to have a very different opinion about the class and the teacher’s effectiveness at teaching. She did not think the teacher was good nor did she think the incarcerated men were getting anything worthwhile out of the class.
I think this upset me for three reasons:
- I think very highly of the teacher and honestly believe that she cares a great deal about the work she does, and quite frankly I think she’s awesome at it.
- Within the past few weeks, I had already listened to 3+ hours of someone else making disparaging comments about not only the teacher but also the Director of Programming at the prison. I understand that there may be some prison employees who slack off at their jobs, but the two in question take their jobs extremely seriously based on how I’ve seen them act and what I’ve heard them say.
- It’s too easy for people to dismiss other people’s efforts, and for some reason, when it comes to working with the incarcerated population, there are a decent number of people who have a holier-than-thou attitude and believe that they alone can “save” the corrections system. I recognize that this is probably an exaggeration, but this is the aura that I sense from some people, and it frustrates me because the system is so broken that it will take the collective efforts of many people and organizations to change. It is counterproductive to dismiss the work of other people, especially if their motivation is also to improve how we treat incarcerated people. Coming across one person who handles their job poorly is not a reason to assume that everyone in the field is bad at their job.
Anyway, I got quite worked up about the matter and tried to defend the instructor and the class for 20 minutes. After that, I started feeling queasy because I very much did not enjoy disagreeing with my friend.
At the same time, however, I feel like I said what needed to be said, and I do not regret sharing my point of view, even though it differed from hers. Besides, at this point, she really only had two indirect accounts to base her opinion off of.
I’ve calmed down since the heated discussion of yesterday, and I think my takeaway is that it’s okay to disagree with people, even if they are your friends. There is a reason why we have the phrase “respectfully disagree”, and it’s an important skill to have. The goal does not always have to be to make someone else agree with you. In fact, it’s quite valuable to have people around you who don’t necessarily agree with you on all issues. It’s a good way of escaping the trap of echo chambers.
Respectfully disagreeing is a skill that I personally have not practiced very much, but I guess yesterday counts as another learning experience to this end.