New Heterodox Academy member Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at UPenn’s Wharton School, wrote in Saturday’s New York Times op-ed page:

The skill to get hot without getting mad — to have a good argument that doesn’t become personal — is critical in life.

We couldn’t agree more. His essay provides examples of famous innovators who made breakthroughs by disagreeing with each other. Furthermore:

[T]eaching kids to argue is more important than ever. Now we live in a time when voices that might offend are silenced on college campuses, when politics has become an untouchable topic in many circles, even more fraught than religion or race. We should know better: Our legal system is based on the idea that arguments are necessary for justice.

It’s not only our legal system, but also our democratic system that depends on disagreement. If we cannot engage with others with whom we disagree and learn from their opposing viewpoint, we cannot vote intelligently.

It’s a sign of respect to care enough about someone’s opinion that you’re willing to challenge it.

Indeed, when we hear an opposing viewpoint and stay silent, we’re likely to continue believing that such a viewpoint is based in fallacious reasoning or even dubious motivations; we burrow deeper into our echo chamber. It is only by voicing our opposition that we can know what they’re really thinking, and thus humanize (and likely learn from) the other side.

As Grant points out, universities—ideal homes for constructive disagreement—can now be places where students and professors alike often feel silenced. He argues that we should be learning these skills at an even younger age than our undergraduate years; he presents evidence that being exposed to disagreement as a child is important for developing creativity.

There’s no better time than childhood to learn how to dish it out — and to take it.

(This line in particular hit home for me. When I asked my 96 year-old grandfather for his secret to living such a joyful life, he said “the important thing is to know how to take it, and how to dish it out.”)

Grant ends with four practical, research-based tips for having healthy disagreement:

  • Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.
  • Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.
  • Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.
  • Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

You can read all of Grant’s excellent op-ed here.

And, if you weren’t lucky enough to be exposed to constructive disagreement as a child, don’t despair! Heterodox Academy has made it a priority to codify the requisite knowledge and skills, and enable others to teach them with ease. Our OpenMind platform (formerly the Viewpoint Diversity Experience) has already been adopted for use in the classroom by professors at 15+ universities and used by 300+ students.

P.S. Grant himself is not one to avoid a healthy disagreement. When we wrote about James Damore’s Google memo this summer, we linked to a critique of Grant’s response, as well as Grant’s critique of that critique. The respectful back-and-forth served as a shining model of constructive disagreement, amidst the name-calling and motivation-disparaging that the controversy had prompted.


Opinions expressed are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by Heterodox Academy or any of its members. We welcome your comments below. Feel free to challenge and disagree, but please try to model the sort of respectful and constructive criticism that makes viewpoint diversity most valuable. Comments that include obscenity or aggression are likely to be deleted.