This thought crossed my mind today as I was reviewing my research (Tanous, in preparation [shameless self-promotion!]) on conversational practices in French and English.
For this research project, I looked at a bilingual French-English conversation group, and the conversation practices used by French people and by American people. I also looked at times when the members of this group expressed their own perspectives on what it means to talk like a French person or like an American person, and on aspects of French and American culture.
One of the themes throughout this project has been that American people are seen as being less willing to engage in debate than French people. Some of the members of this conversation group have said that they when they talk to someone, they want someone who is willing to disagree with them, someone who is willing and able to have an informed discussion (read: argument), and someone who is not easily offended or embarrassed when someone disagrees with them.
I think I fall into the category of people who get embarrassed when someone disagrees with them. Unless the subject is something I’ve studied or looked into extensively, if someone disagrees with me I tend to back down pretty quickly.
Maybe it’s a kind of Southern influence manifesting itself in some terrible subconscious need to be agreeable all the time, or maybe it’s gender roles and a subconscious need to be sweet and charming lady, or maybe it’s an extreme empathy that makes me want to understand the other more than to express myself, or maybe it’s imposter syndrome creating a paralyzing fear of being “found out” as un-knowing. Most likely it’s a combination of all of those, and probably some other stuff I haven’t come to terms with yet.
In any case, it’s something I probably need to work on: appropriately expressing an informed disagreement or intelligently defending my own opinion when someone disagrees with it.
Caveat: At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with being agreeable. I think it’s always going to be important to first understand the other person and their reasons. It’s the back-and-forth in real time that intimidates me somewhat.