How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable

In a polarized political landscape, disagreements about politics bleed into many people’s personal lives. Disagreements can turn into arguments, which can turn into grudges, and even destroy relationships. But it is possible to disagree with someone and still get along.

Recently on The Drew Mariani Show, Drew told about the friendship of Robert P. George and Cornel West, both Princeton University professors on opposite sides of the political spectrum who, nevertheless, have maintained a close friendship over the years. How is it possible to remain friends with someone whose views you strongly disagree with?

Monsignor Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your Father™, is actually the godson of Robert P. George, and he joined Drew to offer some suggestions on how to disagree with someone without being disagreeable. Below are some of his suggestions:

Know That Disagreements are Nothing New
I just got done reading a fantastic biography of John Marshall, the third Chief Justice of the United States, the longest-lasting Chief Justice of the United States, and all the politics that swirled around him. I also read a book about Henry Clay and Daniel Webster and John Calhoun, three of the great senators and statesmen from very different political views that dominated the first half of the 19th century.

And the issues then were much like the issues now. Slavery was obviously the largest issue, and it was always threatening to tear the union apart. But there were other issues. Should the United States have a common currency? Should they have a bank? What are the roles and powers of the states vis a vis the federal government? And remember, at that time dueling was still around and some of these disputes ended up in duels (famously Burr vs. Hamilton) that ended in the death of some of these politicians.  So at least we’re not doing that right now, but we’re getting close.

Assume Goodwill
We always have to assume goodwill and good motives on the other side. This comes up even in things that are very close to what we believe and cherish the most. When I’m talking to someone who denies the existence of God, I don’t immediately think they’re a bad person. I think they’re wrong, but I don’t think they’re a bad person. And I assume goodwill. And with that assumption I can start looking for places we might be able to plant seeds or things we might be able to build on to maybe help him or her see more clearly why belief is more reasonable than unbelief.

Listen to Each Other
We have to really listen to the other side. My positions on immigration are well-known. They are the position of the Catholic Church on immigration. In modern times the Church has been very clear that there is a fundamental right to emigrate. But I understand that the other side are usually working out of really being afraid, perhaps for their jobs, they might be afraid for the economic position of our nation, they might be afraid about the influx of people who want to do us harm, who are trafficking drugs or trafficking people.

I understand that real fear. I understand those concerns. And we have to listen to those concerns. Because often the issue isn’t the issue, and those fears need to be addressed.

Insist on Civility
I sometimes think we need to call people out when they’re using foul language. I think that’s very inappropriate. You can disagree about ideas without calling people names. Quite frankly, I just think we have to start doing fraternal correction. Say to people, ‘You can disagree with me without being disagreeable. You don’t have to call names. You don’t have to use foul language.’ And especially as Christian we definitely should be able to learn how to disagree, even about important things, without being so disagreeable that we have to revert to name calling or foul language.

Listen to the conversation below:

The Drew Mariani Show airs weekdays from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Eastern/12:00 – 3:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.