When Did “I Disagree with You” Become “I Hate You”?

Am I the only one who wonders how something as common and simple as disagreement devolved into this grossly exaggerated idea that those who disagree with us must hate us, too?

My older sister and I rarely communicate. Not for any reason in particular, so far as I know. For me it tends to be an out of sight, out of mind sort of situation. I moved to Alaska in 1995 and lived there for eleven years. I had very little contact with any of my relatives during those years. This wasn’t because I didn’t care to see my family in Colorado, but because it took a monumental effort (and no small sum of money) to see them. I returned to Colorado once a year (twice, at most), and I made my best effort to get around to see everyone. It wasn’t always possible, however, so I prioritized my relations. I made sure I saw my parents and my brother (we’ve always been close), and I squeezed other family and friends in as time and circumstances allowed.

Not once in those eleven years did any of my relatives visit me in Alaska. I don’t fault them for that because I understand the logistics, but relationships are two-way streets. The burden of sustaining relationships over that distance should never have been solely my own to carry. My sister is six years older than me, so we were never really close while we were growing up. By the time I returned from Alaska, we might as well have been complete strangers.

Fast forward to yesterday. Out of the blue I get a long, rambling private Facebook message from my sister suggesting that our maternal grandfather was an illegal alien when he arrived in the U.S. some 100 years ago. She has no evidence to support her theory – only an anecdotal story from an alcoholic uncle (hardly a reliable source, in my opinion). She then demanded that I tell her how I “feel” about this anecdotal story. Since her insistence came on the heels of me ‘liking’ a political opinion that opposes making welfare benefits available to illegal aliens, I can only guess that my position on immigration is what prompted her to demand that I declare my “feelings” about our grandfather’s legal status.

Here’s my reply:

So, you asked what I think about Papa Joe. Truthfully, I don’t think anything about it. You haven’t given me any facts yet – only a lot of speculation and some thinly veiled scorn for me and my personal values. But even if it is a fact that he was an illegal alien, that changes nothing about my feelings for him. Or my feelings about myself or Mom or anyone else in our family, for that matter. It makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever if he came here legally or illegally because it was 100 years ago. This country was a vastly different place back then.

If you’re comparing Grandpa to the illegals you see at work, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Grandpa worked for his living. The people you encounter at work are looking for handouts. Big difference.

Parenthetically, my sister works for Denver County in (I presume) some sort of social services capacity since she stated earlier in our PM thread, “In my work, I see lots of denials due to failure to prove legal status, just FYI.” I see those denials as a system that is functioning properly, or at least sufficiently. My sister evidently sees them as failures. In any case, her response to my reply was that I “seem full of hatred for [her] and [her daughters]”. To emphasize her point, she promptly ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook.

So… let me get this straight… I state very clearly that my grandfather’s ambiguous legal status when he arrived in the U.S. doesn’t change the way I feel about him (or anyone else in our family), and she interprets my response as “you seem full of hatred for me and my girls”.

I see this wild leap of anti-reason from “I disagree with you” to “you hate me” almost daily. It’s most prevalent in discussions that involve the faintest whiff of disagreement about gay marriage, immigration, abortion, or any other emotionally or politically charged topic.

How have these conversations devolved to this childish reductionism? It’s the intellectual equivalent of the sort of verbal exchange you’re likely to hear between two preschoolers fighting over toys in a sandbox. Another reply to “I disagree with you” that I hear frequently is “your opinion doesn’t count because you’re not gay [or a minority or a woman]”.

Seriously?

It’s time to grow up, people. If you can’t handle something as simple as being confronted with an alternate view that challenges your personal view, I suggest you check your premises. And grow a thicker skin, for Pete’s sake, because conflict and struggle are crucial stimuli for growth. We may achieve world peace and learn to coexist someday, but we’ll never live in a world that is completely free of conflict. And thank goodness because such a world would be incredibly static and boring.

“I disagree with you” does not mean “I hate you”. It means I. Do. Not. Agree. Period.

Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s the actual definition of ‘disagree’ from the unabridged home dictionary that my husband and I picked up at an estate sale recently (Webster’s New Third International Dictionary, 1961):

disagree

Incidentally my grandfather, a coal miner, died about sixteen years ago. What I remember most about him is that he was a quiet, hard-working man who provided for five kids by working long hours in a deep, dark hole in the ground. He grew a lush vegetable garden every summer and kept a perfectly manicured lawn. When he wasn’t gardening, he loved to fish. He taught all of his grand-kids to fish and was there to celebrate our first catches. He also looked forward to shoveling snow every winter. He would spend hours clearing freshly fallen snow from the sidewalks and driveways of his own house and ours, which was just next door.

He confided in me once that he enjoyed shoveling snow because it looks and smells fresh and clean – qualities I’m sure he appreciated profoundly after decades of chipping away at coal seams deep underground. In the years since my grandfather passed away, I’ve always felt closest to him when I see and smell freshly fallen snow.

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3 thoughts on “When Did “I Disagree with You” Become “I Hate You”?

  1. As sisters your differing styles seem to invite for explosive misunderstandings. You both sound like strong women with strong opinions. Bet you got some of that strength from your grandpa. Your narrative about him is beautiful!

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    1. Yes, we come from a long line of highly opinionated and stubborn people, I’m afraid. Explosive misunderstandings are inevitable in my family. Thank you so much for your comment! My grandpa was a wonderful man. I’m pleased to know that I adequately expressed that in my narrative.

      Liked by 1 person

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