What Does Agreement Smell Like?

Let’s agree to disagree. Some of the most annoying words you will hear these days, am I right? Or is it just me? I mean we can agree to disagree on which Housewives show is the best (and by best I mean worst) or whether dark chocolate tastes better than milk chocolate (it does). But we cannot agree to disagree on, say, whether immigrants’ children should be separated from their parents for years at a time, or if denigrating people wearing masks is fit behavior for a President. There is no middle ground there. So, no, I do not agree to disagree on these issues — or the myriad other subjects of morality and civility that seemingly have become debatable.

I’ve been thinking about the word agree a lot lately. Especially since Thursday night when I attended an online Bible Study. The leader said things that made me understand that his beliefs were different than mine when it came to certain social situations. Situations concerning love and sex and marriage. I felt flushed as I sat watching, and listening, and viewing the chat fill up with “amens.” It wasn’t a fiery speech he was making or even an admonishment, it was just clear that the preacher’s stance was different from mine. And I started thinking, well he knows way more than I do about the Bible and he has presumably read much commentary on all things Biblical. So what was I disagreeing with? I mean, with what tool did I generate this differing opinion? In other words, what is it in us that triggers the disagreement alarm to go off? Is it always related to our deep beliefs in human love and equality, or is it sometimes just a knee-jerk reaction to someone saying something we don’t like, or something we have espoused in the past to be wrong? I am not suggesting I was necessarily wrong Thursday night, but it did get me to thinking about what dis-agreeing really was.

Remember Agree Shampoo?! I do. It claimed to “stop the greasies.” It made my hair smell wonderful, like being in a CVS where someone had opened up all the bubble baths and hair products at the same time. Anyway, in thinking of their ad campaign, I was wondering if the message was that if we used Agree(ment) we could stop the greasy, messy state of (dis)agreement. The word agree, by the way, originates (I’m way into etymology in case you hadn’t noticed) from “Old French agreer, based on Latin ad- ‘to’ + gratus ‘pleasing’” (Google). So people who agree are pleasant, I guess.

A man (White) recently told me about Jordan Peterson (who he was surprised to learn I had never heard of) and his book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. He explained Peterson’s theory to me, that in life the metaphorical bigger rat has to let the smaller rat win 30% of the time or else the smaller rat will refuse to continue playing whatever “game” it is they are involved in. Now he was explaining this self-deprecatingly as he likened himself to the smaller rat in terms of our tennis capabilities. He was noting how nice it was of me to “let” him win some points now and again. After I enjoyed a moment of flattery, I quickly shifted into feminist mode wherein I stated that women probably did not need to heed that particular suggestion as we had been doing that for the last few hundred years already. When we actually are in the situation of being the “bigger rat” we are too well aware that the male ego requires constant soothing and uplift when it is not Charles in Charge. My tennis partner laughed and said that if, as I claimed, men (White) tended to hold positions of authority anyway then he was certain they didn’t need to be assuaged by the occasional bigger rat as they already knew they held some kind of general all-encompassing power already. I laughed back and was just about ready to launch into a short lesson on American history and the centuries old fear of the White man of any other group of humans who looked like they just might be up to the same tasks as they were, thus diminishing their power… when I stopped my laugh short and just smiled. I most assuredly did not agree with this man, but he may well have walked away thinking that not only did I agree, but that I was agreeable. That was certainly not my intention, and I still do not know why in that moment I chose to let the subject go.

When a wine is agreeable, it is not something you’re excited about, it’s just fine. When your friend wants to see a movie that you don’t care about, you go anyway just to be agreeable, to be pleasant. But I feel un-pleasant on the inside, when someone says something I don’t agree with. And I don’t mind at all seeming unpleasant on the outside if the statement made is egregiously immoral or stupid (such statements being low-hanging fruit these days that I don’t even need to pick an example for you because there’s probably one in the near vicinity already). I guess I am still wondering why people disagree, how that physiological, neurological, intellectual response gets initiated in the first place. And then I am wondering how can we go about questioning our responses for a more constructive, affective, and effective communication. And then finally I will continue to wonder when exactly one “should” make their unpleasant response public. I tend to err on the side of often as an answer to that question, but I don’t even know if I really agree with myself on that.

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