The Art of Disagreeing Well: Understanding Our Common Values

The Art of Disagreeing Well: Understanding Our Common Values

Erin Payseur

Associate Director, Civic Learning Initiatives, Office of Community Engagement & Service, Baylor University

Controversy with Civility Series

Part 2: Listening & Loving the Other

In part two of this series, we are focusing on learning to listen and love the other. If we are truly going to disagree well, if we want to approach controversy with civility, then we must start with our own attitude and perspective. We must be willing to listen to each other, to value each other, even when we do not agree with each other. How do we do that? We have been looking at three ways that we can cultivate the right heart for this work and for others:

In my last post, I discussed the importance of cultivating a posture of cultural humility instead of cultural competence. This week, we will explore our common values.

Understanding Our Common Values. Not only is it easier to disagree well when we approach difference from a place of humility, it is also much easier to disagree well when we can see common ground. More often than not, we share common values even when we differ in policy, priority, or position. In our state, open carry is a hot topic right now. As mass shootings have ravaged communities and captured national attention, people have a need to feel safe. For some, that means arming themselves so they are equipped to defend their lives or the lives of others in an active shooter situation. For others, it means limiting the people who have guns. This is a hot debate, which positions gun advocates and gun control advocates on very different sides of policy issues. However, when we can identify our shared need to feel safe in our own communities, we have a place of common ground to start a productive conversation.

In the book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics & Religion (2012), Jonathan Haidt uses evidence from evolutionary psychology to show that all of us operate from six common moral matrixes. We all have an intrinsic value system toward care (vs harm), liberty (vs oppression), fairness (vs cheating), loyalty (vs betrayal), authority (vs subversion), sanctity (vs disgust). We all, as people and as societies, care on some level about all of them. Where we differ is in how we rank them and how we balance them with each other. For me, this is helpful because now instead of just talking about gun control, we can talk about the legitimate needs of care, liberty, authority, and more importantly move the discussion to how we can balance those needs with each other to create the best solutions for the common good of all.

Want to know how you rank along these six matrixes? Take a free inventory here -

By identifying those underlying values, we are able to see common ground and explore creative solutions together. If we both admit our desire to be safe, then we are able to relate to each other better. We can connect and think about ways for us to be safe together. And that is where the conversation can move from controversy to connection to action.

Part of what makes the value identification challenging is the way we tend to name & frame issues based on our own biases. In promoting an atmosphere where people can disagree well, then, it matters how we present different options. The Kettering Foundation has a free publication, Naming and Framing Difficult Issues to Make Sound Decisions. This guide can help us frame the conversation in productive ways that help us identify our common values so that we can work together to find ways forward. It can help us view the other not as our enemy but as fellow members of our community, with similar stakes in the outcomes of our discussion.

Next time, we’ll look at avoiding the retreat into silence. When we know we are likely to disagree, or others are likely to disagree with us, how do we avoid withdrawing from the conversation altogether? It may be easier to walk away, but then voices are not heard, valuable perspectives are not shared, and community breaks down.


Haidt, Jonathan (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Vintage Books: New York.

The Kettering Foundation -

Click here to see all posts in this series.

About the Author: Erin Payseur is the Associate Director of Civic Learning Initiatives at Baylor University. She has ten years of experience in civic engagement and higher education. As part of the Office of Community Engagement & Service, she develops sustainable frameworks for co-curricular service & social justice initiatives to guide students in considering their roles as leaders and citizens. She currently serves as the institutional contact for the NASPA Civic Learning & Democratic Engagement Lead Initiative. She has authored several articles and presented nationally on civic engagement, service, and leadership. In addition to her civic engagement work, she also serves as adjunct faculty for the leadership minor. She has a B.A. degree in Religion/ Philosophy from Presbyterian College and a M.Ed. in Higher Education & Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina.

Erin Payseur

Associate Director, Civic Learning Initiatives, Office of Community Engagement & Service, Baylor University