Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book:

You must be able to say, with reasonable certainty,

“I understand,”

before you can say any one of the following things:

“I agree,” or

“I disagree,” or

“I suspend judgment.”

For those who don’t do this, he says:

There is actually no point in answering critics of this sort.

The only polite thing to do is to ask them to state your position for you, the position they claim to be challenging.

If they cannot do it satisfactorily, if they cannot repeat what you have said in their own words, you know that they do not understand, and you are entirely justified in ignoring their criticisms.

Alder goes on:

When you find the rare person who shows that he understands what you are saying as well as you do, then you can delight in his agreement or be seriously disturbed by his dissent.

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3 thoughts on “What You Have to Do First Before You Can Agree or Disagree with Someone”

  1. Phil says:

    Words to live by. An excellent reminder, thanks.

  2. MarieP says:

    I agree! :)

  3. Which begs the question that many people think they understand who don’t. This implies that we should always vie to understand instead of assuming that we do.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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