DRMacIver’s Notebook: Notes on Disagreement

“If you are disagreeing with someone you don’t trust and don’t value (e.g. because you think they’re a jerk or out to get you), your disagreement is adversarial. Your goal is to manipulate them into a desired outcome, not resolve the disagreement per se. You don’t need them to agree with you, just to do what you want.”

—David R. MacIver, “Notes on Disagreement.” drmaciver.com. June 13, 2019.

Never quite thought about it this way before, but the questions of trust and value are central to every relationship.

There are many reasons to not trust someone. If someone is selfish, they will almost always put their interests above others. If someone is incompetent, you cannot trust them to do what they say they will do. If someone doesn’t like you, then you cannot trust them to pursue your best interests.

Most of us probably don’t think about it systemically. If we decide to trust someone and they habitually or seriously violate our trust, then we don’t trust them again. If we are in a low trust environment, where we have extended trust to different people and had them violate it, then we learn to be less trusting of other people in general. Same is true when someone we have extended trust to keeps that trust and when we live in high trust environments we learn to be more trusting.

There is also the question of instrumental value. Why spend time disagreeing with people of no consequence in your life? Why spend time in an adversarial relationship with someone who doesn’t add value to your life?

Trust and value can be a useful lens to think about not only disagreements, but relationships as well.

3 thoughts on “DRMacIver’s Notebook: Notes on Disagreement

  1. This is so interesting, yesterday my friend and I had just such a discussion about trust, lack of trust and how we all operate from a place that was at least partially formed in childhood.
    For myself there are people I just innately do not trust from the moment I meet them but they are few and far between. I am fairly ‘street smart’ so when I do decide to allow someone into my trust I do so openly but not naively.
    As you state above, if someone “habitually or seriously” violates your trust there is no getting it back.
    It is sort of amazing really that as humans we can extend trust to anyone ever again once trust has been broken by even one person, especially if that person is a mother or father.
    Lots of lessons to be learned by broken trust, I loved one line in a poem I read lately about a broken love relationship that had me smiling “you are my warning sign”
    Interesting post.

    1. Trust is interesting because it must be extended before it can be earned. Maybe thinking of it as a form of social credit is helpful. You have to think about the characteristics of a person, the environment, possible harm, your thresholds for experiencing harm, etc.

      Personally, I think it is better to extend trust in most circumstances, and then have a much higher standard for things that are important, such as close friendships. However, if you are working on Wall Street, it probably make sense to distrust everyone on some level because of the environment. So, it always depends on the situation.

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