Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bill and the value of thoughtful arguments

Bill is my business partner. We've worked together for almost twenty-five years. We co-own PT, we are the only two owners, and yet we have no arbitration methods in place for disagreements; we just work them out. We always have, and I have great confidence that we always will.

What's amazing about that belief is the sheer number of areas in which the two of us disagree.

Without going into specifics, because it's not my place to give out personal information about Bill, it's fair to say that on almost all of the topics that most people would consider "hot-button" issues, Bill and I disagree. We've canceled out each other's vote in every election since we've known one another.

One of the many lessons my partnership with Bill has taught me is that I can have a lot of common ground with someone who is on the other side of all of those issues. For example, we're both fiscally conservative, a trait that no political party today (or for some time) seems to embrace.

What's been most enlightening, however, is the fact that someone who is extremely intelligent, whom I respect immensely, who is thoughtful and who considers each topic carefully, can take a position completely opposite my own.

When I talk with friends of a similar political persuasion, I notice a tendency to dismiss people on the other side of big issues as being thoughtless, or not smart, or not understanding. From my involvement with acquaintances and groups who hold opinions opposite my own, I've seen the same sorts of dismissals; the behavior is not unique to either side.

I can never do that with Bill. On any issue we discuss, his opinion reflects thought, intelligence, and careful consideration--even when I believe he's wrong. Of course, many of our differences stem from the fact that we have different starting axioms, but even when we start from the same point, we sometimes end up at different conclusions.

Some of history's greatest evils occurred when one group was able to class another group as an inferior "other," as somehow being less than them. Having done that, it's then easy to dismiss the other group as not being fully human, and then to justify doing horrible things to the members of that (no longer fully human) group.

To a far lesser degree, many political and religious discussions do the same thing to the opposition by classing their opinions as stupid or ignorant or not well thought out, and so on.

Bill has taught me a great deal over the years, and I've benefited from our partnership in too many ways to list, but one of the most valuable lessons is the constant reminder that there are multiple intelligent perspectives on just about everything.

Thanks, Bill.


Todd said...

I am also fiscally conservative and feel there is no one who represents me. Ugh!

vampi said...

I enjoy discussion and debate, even if it gets heated, as long as it doesn't develop into personal attacks. more than once, someone has convinced me to change my mind about things because i wasn't seeing something from a different viewpoint.

You are right though, it's very difficult to keep from thinking down on others when they aren't as skilled at debate as you. that is something I have to work on in myself, having compassion for others who disagree with me. I do think i've come a long way from my hotheaded youth.

Mark said...

I know that in at least this one area I have improved with age. Understanding that others are as passionate about their beliefs as I am and giving them discussion space and respect is definitely easier for me now than when I was a younger man.

Becky said...

I have always loved how incredibly different you two are but yet somehow you are able to work together so well as partners for all these years. I think you balance each other out. And that's why PT is such an amazing company. That and all your employees rock.

Mark said...

Thanks for the kind words, Becky. And they do--as do some past employees.


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