Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolving to disagree, without being disagreeable

A post on a fellow blogger's page today got me thinking about something I heard former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson say once, a few years back. At the time, I was still a practicing journalist, and I was honing in on some important natural resources issues facing the West–most notably the plight of native cutthroat trout in the face of ever-increasing development and urban expansion.

Simpson, a strident Republican, was speaking at an event sponsored by former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus (also the Secretary of Interior under President Carter). Simpson and Andrus, despite being from opposite sides of the aisle, had forged a long and strong friendship–perhaps, both being from the West was enough to bridge opposing political ideology.

Anyway, Simpson's speech was particularly moving because it occurred during a time when we were all realizing just how polarized our nation was becoming (and I look back on that day, not even a decade ago, and think about just how prophetic Simpson's words would be).

"We've lost the ability to disagree," Simpson said, "without being disagreeable."

Enter blogger Owl Jones, who runs a host of blogs, including one I'm particularly fond of–Fly Fishing the Southern Blue Ridge (I'm a brook trout fanatic, and brookies are native where Owl lives). Over the course of the last few months, I've been able to decipher Owl's politics, and, politically speaking, I've determined he and I aren't terribly compatible. He's a pretty conservative fellow. I'm, generally ... not.

But, his blog informs and entertains me, and I think, if we knew each other personally, we might actually be friends–maybe even fishing buddies. I like to think we could we could tolerate our opposing political views in favor of our shared passion for backcountry fly fishing.

Owl wrote a post recently about some hate e-mail he received from a reader who felt the need to reach out and directly criticize one of Owl's blog sites. First, one has to wonder how angry a dude has to be to take the time to trash a blogger running a fly fishing site. Second, one has to question motive.

I like to call such folks "foam-at-the-mouthers." They can't really assign logic to their vitriol, but they feel compelled to channel their discontent nonetheless, regardless of their politics. This, in my opinion, is cheap and below-the-belt.

Here's to Owl, and his unique perspective on things. We likely won't agree on much, but I can honestly say I think our shared passion for fly fishing will one day provide us with a common launching pad for any discussions we might have involving politics. And, I would wager, if we couldn't come to some sort of understanding on our politics, we could at least enjoy a day on the water chasing trout.

In other words, we could disagree without being disagreeable. There's a lesson to be learned there, thanks to Sen. Simpson. I just wish folks would be more inclined to appreciate political differences and look for what we have in common, rather than what we don't.

Is that too much to ask?


  1. First, let me thank you for the very nice mention. Anyone who can post up such an article about another blogger who is clearly "across the aisle" from his own views and be that considerate and polite is more than OK in my book.
    I can get along with almost anyone, as long as the other fellow can do as you've said and agree to disagree. It's when the verbal and mental "rock throwing" starts that ( I must admit) I can quickly crank my response up to 11 and go too far, myself.

    I've known a few people who could agree to disagree with me, and shared a few rivers with one such man. We disagree on almost everything politically, whether it's the environment, wildlife management, pollution, global warming or social services...but because we can always agree that the other fellow is entitled to his opinion - and because we never look down on each other as individuals because of the opinions of the other that we loathe...we can fish happily together, bonded as brothers of the angle.

    I'd share my best brookie water with you any day, Sir. Any day.

    thanks again,

  2. Hey there,

    I think your thoughts are good ones (of course) and it makes sense that someone like Sen. Simpson would bring it up (and as much as I did not like his policies, I have always felt comfortable with him as a Senator). His participation and approach on the current deficit reduction committee with Erskin Bowles is a parallel - two guys, from opposite sides of the spectrum, came together at the request of the President to try to identify ways to get the US economy and governmental spending back under control. And they did that...and they were widely harassed from both sides on the dramatic measures that they proposed. Everyone picked on them about something, most likely about their pet projects that Simpson/Bowles proposed to cut.

    In listening and reading to multiple articles by them about this phenomenon, Simpson mentioned on multiple occasions about something I wrote about here ( is so much noise, just for the sake of noise, that its drowning out any real conversation about the problem itself. The world has been lost in finger-pointing and over dramatization, that the prospect of respectful thought, reflection, and contemplation of different views have been lost.

    Getting that back into the public view would be a New Year's wish come true!

  3. Amen Chris and thanks for focusing your first post of the year on the subject. Honest disagreements aren't fun any more when one person throws words and the other, rocks.

  4. What a wonderful post to start out the New Year with! If people would show more respect for one another as individuals...and remember to treat someone the way you want to be treated! We usually have a common thread with someone if we look deep enough! I've just added you to my blog roll...Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Owl's has become one of my favorite blogs as well.

    We have become a nation of people who focus on our differences rather than those commonalities that bind us together. We have become a country of "us" and "them".

    There was a time in our history when immigrants no longer wanted to be known as Italians, Irish, etc., but wanted to be known as Americans. Hybrid vigor, not mindless assent is what makes this country great.

    If we could remember how to celebrate our differences but revere those larger and more weighty commonalities, we will continue to be a great nation.

    Owl...keep writing, we will keep reading.

  6. Great post to begin the year. I've only had 1 nasty email in 2+ years, and I let them spout their opinion, said, mine, and moved on.

    Healthy disagrement is a great vehicle to see other viewpoints; viscious discagreements are just a waste of everyones time.