Sunday 17 March 2002

Disagreement and respect

A throwaway remark I made last week has generated a considerable degree of heat and friction. And although any attempt on my part to put out the flames can only be seen as that of an arsonist handing out fire extinguishers, I feel an obligation nonetheless.

My first suggestion — not just to the participants, but to all inhabitants of Blogville—is that they read The Happy Tutor’s advice on How to Disagree Agreeably, or at least Effectively, a document which was happily saved from the flames that engulfed the old Wealth Bondage building in the Houston redlight district. If the Tutor’s advice does not resonate, allow me to tell you a story about two Australian masters of the art of disagreeing agreeably.

Fred Daly and Sir James (Jim) Killen were politicians who served on opposite sides of the Australian Parliament for thirty years or so: Fred was an old-style Labor social democrat, Sir James a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. They were the best of friends. Americans might try to imagine an intimate friendship between a Chicago machine Democrat from the time of Mayor Richard J. Daley and a patrician Savannah lawyer turned Republican senator.

On the days that Parliament sat in Canberra, Fred Daly and Jim Killen would devote their considerable energies to advancing conflicting political agendas. In the evenings they ate dinner together and took pleasure in each other’s company.

In the 32 years that Fred Daly was a member of Parliament, the Labor Party was in power for only three. On November 11, 1975, the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr dismissed the Labor government and installed the Liberal (actually conservative) Party in its place. Sir John Kerr was a drunken buffoon, selected by the Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the most extraordinary act of naïvety in the history of Australian politics. After the dismissal, Fred Daly refused to succumb to bitterness though he did rename his dog Sir John.

When Jim Killen was Minister for Defence, his private secretary resigned and Killen advertised for a replacement. As a joke, Fred Daly applied for the job then sent in another application for his dog. Killen gave the job to Sir John, he told Daly, because it had better writing skills.

The condolence speeches given by Fred Daly’s political opponents after his death are revealing:

Tony De Domenico: “When I was elected. He said, ‘Listen, I think the attitude you should take is clock on, get in there, go for the political jugular, clock off, and then shout the first beer.’ In fact, I think that is the way Fred Daly lived his life, whether it was politics, whether it was sport, or whether it was anything else he did. Do it properly, do it to the best of your ability, but do not take it personally and, last but not least, shout the first beer.”

Peter Morris: At the funeral I said to Jim Killen afterwards, “Jim, you’ve lost your partner.” He said, “No, I’ve got an advocate in the place that you haven’t got one.” That was the ultimate in Jim Killen and Fred Daly; that he had an advocate in the place that I did not have one.

These days, when not just politics but everyday life itself has become a bitter struggle, it’s easy to dismiss people like Fred Daly and Sir James Killen as dinosaurs. I admire them more than anyone else in Australian policital history. Why? Because they refused to allow their human relationship to be contaminated by their political convictions. They recognized that we are defined not by our beliefs but by our actions.

But it wasn’t just because they had such a high regard for each other that they were able to sustain an enduring friendship. There was something in their individual characters that made it possible to not just to respect but to genuinely like an individual whose beliefs you passionately oppose. As someone once remarked, Fred Daly never made an enemy he couldn’t be friends with. We’d all do well to emulate him.

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I shoulda read that "hot to disagree" post first before posting my reply. It's a jewel. Damn the nicotine. Damn the nicotine!

Posted by Karl on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Hm. Perhaps I should have read that before responding over on BBird's.
Ah, well, what's life without a bit of spice?

Posted by Meryl Yourish on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Good in theory. Not always practicable.

Posted by Burningbird on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

That's correct, it's not always practicable. But a strategy doesn't have to work every time for it to be useful.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Ah. Well, Jonathon, my suggestion is you read this blog before reading Blogsisters. Then come back here and read it again before answering. :-)

Posted by Meryl Yourish on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Might be better to stick to safer subjects, like religion or politics :)

Posted by Michael Webb on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Michael, perhaps you'd like to lead the way. I'll follow along behind, a long way behind.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 17 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Michael and Jonathon -- if only women bring up the topic of sexism, we hear only one hand clapping in the wilderness. This really is a good topic. We just need to remember Tutor...

Posted by Burningbird on 18 March 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour