When Agreeing to Disagree is Not Good Enough

11/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Deborah Plummer Psychologist, Author, Diversity Thought Leader, GrubStreet Board Member

I watched Oprah's interview with Jay-Z on Friday's show where they discussed the use of the N-word. Oprah vehemently hates the use of the word (as I do). Jay-Z experiences a different and new reality for the use of the word that strips the power of any hateful impact by making it a term of endearment (which I totally understand). Oprah respectfully stated that she and Jay-Z would have to agree to disagree.

I have heard the phrase, "we'll just agree to disagree," used a lot in diversity sessions and most of the time its use is a conversation stopper. Sometimes the conversation needs to stop, but, for the most part, if we don't continue past the prickly aspects of discussing differences we will never reach new levels of knowing and understanding. Going deeper than agreeing to disagree is an especially important competency in a global context.

In order to successfully navigate our increasingly multicultural world, new skill sets and ways of knowing are required that extend beyond the mere co-existence of ideas in the same space. Just as passive observers do not receive the full benefit of an interactive, participative world-wide web (web 2.0), individuals must be transformed from ethnocentric worldviews and myopic thinking (Self 1.0) to individuals with pluralistic worldviews and layered, nuance thinking styles (Self 2.0). Agreeing to disagree may not be good enough for us to evolve as people and live effectively in a global society.

I am not suggesting that we have to compromise our principles or values. I am suggesting that we allow multiple realities to influence and inform our personal frameworks so that we continue to grow individually and collectively as a society.

When we agree to disagree we acknowledge that the other reality exists without accepting that reality or participating in that reality. Thus, we remain static in our encapsulated worldview. When we hold multiple realities we allow other realities to inform our decision-making and transform our understanding of who we are. We change and grow.

I still do not like the use of the N-word and never use it myself. Yet, I no longer cringe when I hear it used by others -- typically those of a younger generation. I now resist the urge to give history lessons and instead of getting angry, I embrace the reality that I now live in a world where that term can be used in friendship, in endearment, or even as an expression of calling out someone for acting badly. I can be totally in agreement for that kind of freedom.


Oprah Jay Z