Speaking your mind, especially when you disagree.

A couple days ago while perusing Facebook, I was fascinated by the title of a TED Talk that was advertised in my news feed, “Dare to Disagree” by Margaret Heffernan.

TED Talks become a means for different eyes to the world. I value all of the TED Talks I have ever listened to, primarily because the messages I received from the talks became guides for very pivotal moments in my life. Without them, undoubtedly I would be a different person today.

I began listening to Margaret Heffernan. During her speech, Heffernan spoke of Alice Stewart, a physician and epidemiologist (epidemiology – the study of pattern in disease), regarding her research done in the mid 1950s involving childhood cancer in Oxford, England. Alice Stewart is unique and inspiring for many reasons: as the youngest to be elected into the royal college of physicians, continued to work after marriage, pregnancy, divorce, and life as a single mother.

StewartStewart discovered that the children experiencing cancer were birthed to mothers who had undergone x-rays done during their pregnancy. This was a two to one discovery that created underlying uncertainties in current doctoral practices, particularly the idea that doctors don’t harm the patients, they help them. Stewart hoped to immediately publish her studies and when she did there was talk of the Nobel Peace Prize, however, and quit unfortunately it was another twenty-five years before the British and American medical systems discontinued the practice of x-rays on the mother during a pregnancy.

Heffernan discusses how openness alone can only shed light to change, it does not invite change, and it certainly cannot in and of itself create change.

Openness alone can only shed light to change, it does not invite change, and it certainly cannot in and of itself create change.

Alice Stewart worked aside George Neal, a Statistician completely opposite to herself. Now what George Neal did was actively seek disconfirmation, creating conflict around all of Stewart’s theories. What this did was create a collaboration system so effective that it gave Stewart the confidence she needed to know that she was right.

Now as the discussion of Alice Stewart herself began to fade, the topic began to centralize and become much more focused on the collaboration styles that we use today – which in fact, is absolutely nothing like this. A lot of us are so scared, intimated or worried to speak our minds in the case of disagreeing that we become locked into our thoughts and accept like sheep whatever the current situation, implementation, or upcoming change may be.

What I learned from this talk, however, was that it is not just in the workplace that we must begin to speak up when we disagree. It is a vital aspects to relationships in general, as it allows us to do our very best thinking, and prevents us from being “echo chambers” as Heffernan so described those who do not think on their own. Rather than simply agreeing the act of not doing so evokes conversation. 

But when we dare to break that silence, or when we dare to see, when we create conflict we enable ourselves and the people around us to do our very best thinking.

I loved this, so much so that I decided to write about it here, today, and now. As I am writing I see how this is also applicable to the theories we have in our minds about ourselves. I know that I often experience very negative thoughts about myself, my body, my tendencies and whatever else I may be experiencing.  And in most situations these thoughts are more harmful than helpful. The concept of disagreeing is applicable in as many ways as we can imagine, using the this idea of speaking against my current thought processes to evoke a better kind of change in my own mind. Becoming happier, more confident, and validated through doing so.

Speak your mind, especially when you disagree.

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