When Disagreement Is Inclusive

When I say that I’m interested in disagreement, my interest is not in bridging the biggest gulfs that might come to mind—of getting “both sides” together to talk.

Rather, I’m interested in how our disagreements go: the disagreements within a group working toward a common goal or among allies working in coalition.

Engaging these disagreements is not easy for many reasons. For example, adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy describes “real language barriers—both literal and cultural—that mean we often think we are hearing each other, but we actually have no clue what others are saying. We all have filters, only some of which we are aware.”

I recently completed a training that encouraged me to reflect on my filters/lenses while the training did not reflect on its own, unlike brown’s practice where she notes that she can be too quick to dismiss critical voices. For my own part, I can be too quick to engage in criticism.

But criticism is not the same as critical practice, which continually seeks input of differing points of view to identify filters and other partial perspectives so that we can synthesize a new and better way forward as brown describes:

“The more people that collaborate on that ideation [i.e., imagining beyond the fears and limits of today], the more that people will be served by the resulting world(s).”

This inclusive critical practice can be challenging to achieve in part due to the communication patterns engendered by hierarchical organizations, or what brown terms “linear organizing.” Those in charge think they know best and assume a deficit model of those lower in rank.

brown encourages us to “be willing to name the power dynamics” as it is through those power dynamics that our communications become distorted—filtered, partial perspectives come to be seen as the universal truth.

Authentic engagement of participation across difference is essential, which is why hierarchical organizations discourage it.

People in positions of authority resist talking about what productive disagreement looks like to them or the conditions in which they’d change their mind because that risks loss of their authority.

But the same unhealthy communication patterns that are commonplace in traditional organizations can also emerge within groups who are trying to move us beyond systems of dominance. Maurice Mitchell offers a detailed analysis of several common patterns.

How do we begin, continue, and grow productive engagement wherein unhealthy communication patterns can be detected, surfaced, and transformed?

For those who seek to answer that question, it carries no little risk of discomfort and even harm.

Solidarity involves working with others who may be injured in the same way you are injured and yet can injure you in different ways.

About Todd Battistelli

Rhetorician and writing teacher. Keeping an eye on the state of civic discourse.
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