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We are all well aware that we should be agreeable, especially if we want people to like us. And being agreeable, according to some, means agreeing. Here lies the rub. We sometimes think we have to agree with the other. And this can sometimes be difficult. However, we can take a less strong position and avoid disagreeing.
When someone says something hateful or hurtful, usually to others, it may be difficult to agree, or at least we might think we ought not to agree. When someone says something that we think is untrue, such as a false fact, we might not want to agree. And when someone lavishes praise on a politician we don't like, we might find it hard to agree. There are many circumstances when agreeing is difficult, and when doing so might make us feel false and somewhat sycophantic.
There are many ways we can agree. We can agree with the statement the person makes. If we think Jo Slimey is the best thing that has happened to our country we can easily agree with the person lavishing praise. But if we do not agree. If we strongly disagree. We still have options of being agreeable.
We can agree in principle. So, having a good leader is very important to a country. We can agree with this general statement. And talk about the importance of good leadership, whoever might be the good leader.
We can agree with the person's motive. For example, we can praise them for caring so much for the country. It is important that we have citizens who feel strongly about the future of the country. And although we don't agree, in fact, we strongly disagree, that Jo Slimey is the man to do it, we agree it is important that people care and get involved.
We can agree with the consequences of good leadership. If we have a good leader, then the country, and its people, will do well. And this has to be something to aim at.
We could say what a famous person said, 'I disagree with your views, sir, but I would fight to the death to defend your right to hold them.' You can't get too upset by that!
The problem with agreeing, in one form or another, may be a problem we have with our own beliefs. If we believe something so strongly and with such bigotry that we cannot imagine how any rational person could think differently, then we will have problems with agreeing. If we think that we do not know everything, and we might have something to learn we will have fewer problems with agreeing. We can, at least, try to avoid disagreeing.
Education can cause the phenomenon of disagreeing. Academic education trains people to pick faults with theories and ideas. Much of academic work is criticism. In fact, because there is no philosophy that is not subject to quite serious criticism, an academic can criticise anything and everything. (Because philosophy is the base of everything!) Because academics have become experts at criticism, they sometimes think that is how they should respond to what another says. They give the impression of not agreeing, when really they are exploring ideas.
We can increase our understanding of agreement by examining the fours stages of development in advanced education. These parallel the initial stages in spiritual development
William Perry proposed a name for these stages as they are used in education:
Dualism is the belief that the universe consists of only two fundamental principles. Ideas are good or bad; Right or wrong. In this stage students believe ideas are absolutely right or absolutely wrong. The teacher is a guru. The adviser an expert who knows the truth. Truth is what an expert says. There is no point listening to what people who are not experts or gurus have to say. These people know the truth. Others do not. Clearly, in life, many of us never pass from this stage. In fact, whole nations can be in this state. At this stage people agree with everything experts say, and do not regard what non-experts say.
The stage of multiplicity refers to believing there are many viewpoints all equally valid. Ideas are multiple, that is there is more than one valid opinion. One man's opinion is as valid as another's. There are no absolutes and no objective standards. The student applies criticism to everything, but without a real intention to seek the truth. They mouth ideas and the support for these ideas, without any real belief in any of them. In the end, it's all opinion. Everyone's opinion is just as good and just as bad as anyone else's. There are no absolute truths, so there aren't any truths. Here people can agree with anything. Even strange and weird theories!
Perry called the third stage Relativism Yet there are better theories and worse ones. All theories and beliefs are not mere opinion. Although there aren't any absolute truths, some ideas are better than others. They are more rational. They have more scope. They have more support from evidence. There is a greater belief in the power of some tools to find truth. Although reason can be applied mindlessly to criticise everything.
The final stage is committed relativism. Students are committed to learning and unravelling diverse opinions and introducing their own judgements and evaluations to select those ideas to use in life and in research. The being learns that there are many resources, but no gurus and no infallible experts. One can learn from everyone, but some people, such as professors and gurus can contribute more. Yet no one is an infallible source of information. Some guides are better than others in some respects, but none can take your responsibility to decide yourself on what is the best. Yet to decide, you must listen and learn from whatever resource is available. There is agreement and respect for all theories, but no gullible belief in any. Belief is provisional, and based on good reasons. The being at this level remembers how he or she was in the stage of dualism, and therefore shows respect for those who still have some work to do in moving through these stages.
We all rather like to be agreed with and being agreeable contains at least some element of agreeing. There are many ways we can agree with sincerity. We can also understand how our clinging to beliefs can be related to our stage of development in that particular area.
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Most Recent Revision: 20-Mar-99.