Disagreeing or Not Understanding (Knowing)

There is a subtle difference between “not understanding” vs “disagreeing”.
Something that we commonly mix up and are blind-sighted to.

A: I disagree with this teaching.
B: So which part of this teaching do you not agree with?
A: I don’t know.
B: What do you mean?
A: I do not understand or know the teaching.
B: If you do not understand or know the teaching, how can you disagree with it?

Was having a chat with my mom, and had this epiphany!

This is a common problem we have. We tend to disagree with something that we do not know or understand. But to disagree with something, we should and need to first know what it is, before we can agree or disagree.

metta, ^_^

6 thoughts on “Disagreeing or Not Understanding (Knowing)”

  1. Venerable sir, may I suggest an example.

    Suppose someone comes to me and claims that he can double my wealth within a week. He then gives a long elaboration on why his strategy works, involving very advanced mathematics which I cannot understand. What would my reaction be?

    Me: I disagree with your results.
    Him: So which part do you not agree with?
    Me: I don’t know
    Him: What do you mean?
    Me: I do not understand or know what you are talking about
    Him: Then how can you disagree with it?

    🙂 Please forgive my humor Venerable sir. I just want to bring out the point that some times we do have the feeling of disagreement even when we cannot understand something. More formally, for example if someone comes up with an alternative perspective about rebirth, or karma, or path to Enlightenment which contradicts our prior belief, then we immediately tend to switch to our “disagree” mode. Some times we cannot understand the reasoning of the person, but that would not toggle us off the “disagree” mode. There is certain grasping to our prior beliefs in order for us to preserve our rationality. A set of incomprehensible logic is definitely not a good reason for us to abandon our prior beliefs.

    Do you agree?

    1. If you happen to chance upon my talks, you will know that I am rather forgiving with humour. 😉

      What you just said is absolutely true. And that is precisely what is the situation highlighted, that we tend to have a feeling of disagreement when we do not understand it. What I am positing is that this feeling of
      disagreement is more of an irrational response or a gut feel stemming from lack of knowledge or understanding rather than disagreeing with ample grounds of reasoning.

      The same goes for the cases of rebirth, karma etc, and as you say, that people tend to switch to the disagree mode. Some would call it the defensive mode. And that is the point of the entry, that while this is the tendency, it does not make it sound.

      I guess it is common for people to link understanding and agreement together. An incomprehensible set of logic does not imply that it is illogical; it just means it is incomprehensible.

      Maybe I should put it this way:
      If we cannot understand it, we cannot imply that it is true. So we cannot agree that it is true.
      But we cannot disagree with it as well, that it is untrue, since we cannot even understand it.
      The problem is that the first “cannot agree” may be the basis for an intuitive disagree, but if we follow with that logic, then we realise that we cannot hence disagree and claim that it is false as well.

      Understand or agree? 🙂

  2. Thank you for elaborating Venerable sir. Your word “irrational” exactly describes the reality. Here is what I make of it:
    1) Understand -> rationally agree or disagree
    2) Do not understand -> irrationally agree or disagree
    3) Mis-understand -> ?

    Yes actually there is a 3rd case of mis-understand as well. But I shall skip this case. What is more interesting is case 2. Even if people do not understand, they would form judgment and irrationally agree or disagree. For example if it is spoken by someone they admire, then even if they don’t understand, they tend to irrationally agree. If it is spoken by someone they distrust, then even if they don’t understand, they tend to irrationally disagree.

    I find that agree/disagree-ment stamping from rational judgment, is actually weaker than agree/disagree-ment stamping from irrational judgment. For example we may let someone understand and agree the advantages of practicing good speech, but yet the person may just accept that as a good idea and not “practice” it. Conversely if someone is led to irrationally believing that certain rituals bring wealth, then that person would actually practice it.

    Thus I suggest that perhaps rationality is only adopted in our conscious brain, while the irrationality is adopted in our subconscious brain. The subconscious brain is much intertwined with our emotions as well, hence together they form a much larger will than the conscious brain. And whenever we are not mindful, the subconscious brain automatically wins.

    Therefore to lead someone to irrationally agree or disagree, is as important as to lead someone to rationally agree or disagree. Perhaps leading to rationally agree or disagree is just the 1st step. After that the person need to absorb the rationality into his irrationality, so that one day even if he no longer has the brain power to remember or understand the logic (e.g. one grows old), he would still irrationally support the conclusion.

    Some people have the charisma to lead others to spontaneously rationally and irrationally agree with them, while some others have the charisma to lead to either rational agreement only or irrational agreement only. Hopefully all these people with charisma would do good and lead others to less suffering.

    Do you rationally/irrationally agree/disagree Venerable sir?
    **sorry cannot resist another humor…

  3. Indeed, as I mentioned to some students before, “If you like the speaker, you will agree with him!”.

    Both levels of agreement, rational or irrational, are equally important as people have different inclinations. But as I find, most people tend to incline towards the irrational first and the rational later. The thing I
    would caution about irrational agreement is that it can lead to blind obedience and adoption of harmful actions and practices.

    From the Kalama sutra (Anguttara Nikaya 3.65), the Buddha advises one to consider the value of a teaching based on the result or impact of it on oneself and others, and not through simply hearsay or reasoning. Note that the result or impact is observed through one’s application of the teaching and not mere speculation or reasoning of it.

    On the merits or strength of agreement arising from rational or irrational judgement, it is equally possible for someone to irrationally agree to something, but simply pay lip-service to it. Both cases of agreement do not necessarily lead to the ‘practise’ or application of it, unless it is internalised.

    And lastly, yes, may those with charisma do good and lead others to less suffering, and not otherwise.

  4. Knowing is one aspect, understanding is another. We know the Sun exists but we may not understand its origin or purpose. There is no disagreement when we know something is true, real or proven. Chilli is hot not by logic, reasoning or rationality and there is no ‘belief’ involved. A disagreement arises because we do not know or understand. Yet agreeing to a ‘notion’ can arise despite proof to the contrary. At one time, the Earth was thought to be flat and if you venture too far out, you will fall out. Despite proven circum-navigation, satellite pictures and first cosmonaut/astronaut/taikonnaut exclamations, there are people still believing the earth is flat despite their knowledge and understanding to the contrary. So agreement or disagreement has nothing to do with logic, rationality or knowledge. The problem is with ‘belief’ and digging-in a position or stand.
    To disagree because one does not understand is not so ‘dramatic’ as agreeing without understanding. Warren Buffet advised that one should not buy an investment product which he does not understand. In other words, disagree what the financial wizards say because one does not understand!
    To me, if a teaching is beyond my understanding, then I shouldn’t just agree or believe.

  5. Crows are incredibly smart. They can be taught five things on the drop.

    EDITOR: Ya, right. … unlike spammers and spam bots who cannot be taught to stop. 😉

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