Matthew Syed’s book on agreeing to disagree kindly, confidently should be on the curriculum

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 1, 2022

It’s not profound disagreement but the profound inability to properly disagree that is increasingly a problem with life in so many parts of the world, not least Britain and the United States.

Just look at the tragic violence wreaked on Paul Pelosi in San Francisco, just because his wife, Nancy, is the Democrat speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Journalist Matthew Syed was on the radio today discussing his new book ‘What Do YOU Think?: How to agree to disagree and still be friends’.

Mr Syed noted the importance of speaking up with kindness and confidence. People should genuinely engage with ideas, he said. Young people should be taught to challenge the argument and demolish it, not the person who’s arguing. We don’t all need to agree but surely we can disagree without becoming sworn enemies?

We know this ourselves, don’t we. The other day, a reader responded to one of my blogs on Brexit’s opportunist champions with an ill-tempered rant. It ended as follows: “Maybe the Gove example is how things are done. That and no more immigrants and maybe getting rid of some others. Or do you think you are one of them now? If you leave where you might actually belong is another set of articles. So it works out for you either way.”

It’s one of the usual nasty personal notes that pour in from people. When all else fails, they attack the person who’s arguing, hoping to fell the argument that way.

These ad hominem attacks are meant to kill off debate, as Mr Syed has said. And it’s something that most writers and journalists run up against all the time. As do radio and television interviewers. In fact, the BBC’s Nick Robinson noted that he was subject to multiple personal attacks by people even as he was interviewing Mr Syed.

While we’ve been on air, Mr Robinson said, someone’s tweeted that I’m a racist because I asked a question about Albanian asylum-seekers (to the UK) and someone else said I’m a climate-denier because I asked a question about climate change.

The gross personalisation of every intellectual stance is increasingly evident and it impoverishes us, as a people, a culture.

But I suppose those who don’t agree can always go off and attack Matthew Syed. He’s half-Welsh, half-Pakistani. Enough material there for a thorough hatchet job.