As I was browsing the Tribune online, I came across this quote from Barack Obama’s letter bidding goodbye to Illinois as a Senator, “I learned how to disagree without being disagreeable.” That quote has stuck with me all day, and fortunately I was able to share it with someone that wrote it down and who will hopefully pass it on as well. I think it’s such a fitting quote for so many professions, even librarians (especially librarians?!).

I remember growing up, my father would frequently tell me one day that I was going to get my headlights punched out (fortunately it hasn’t happened yet). I think it was in part because I didn’t have the skills as a teen to disagree with something in a way that might make for a change.

I think there’s probably a lot of opportunities in the idea behind Obama’s quote for modeling for teens behavior that might increase their chances at getting a more positive response when they disagree. I also think we get better at disagreeing with practice, and hopefully practice in ‘safe’ ways that don’t cause too much damage as we’re learning the skills ourselves.

One thing I think the quote does point out is the importance of not being afraid to disagree because we might hurt someone’s feelings; or staying silent because we are afraid we might not be heard in the first place so we think why bother trying. One of my closest colleagues recently left my library and one of the first things I thought of when he left was, what a great example he was of modeling not reacting in an emotionally charged way, yet still holding fast to things that were important. I think starting to understand what “learning to disagree without being disagreeable” means finding people in our own lives we feel exhibit this kind of behavior, and perhaps bouncing things off of them when we’re not sure how to respond ourselves. Knowing it’s okay to learn and we don’t have to have it right the first time helps too.

The rest of Barack Obama’s quote reads, “to seek compromise while holding fast to those principles that can never be compromised, and to always assume the best in people instead of the worst.” Feel free to share your own thoughts or stories on this topic.

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.

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