Let’s face it, not everyone is going to agree with you. Or with me. Even Jesus couldn’t pull that off. But does disagreeing have to lead to hatred, hostility, and name-calling? There’s a better way.
When faced with disagreement, no matter the subject, here are six helpful steps to a better way to disagree. I believe these are actually modeled in Jesus’ own record of disagreements with others.
- Ask why. The other person has reasons for believing what they do. And while it can be tempting to assume those reasons are stupid or ignorant, why not give the other person an opportunity to clarify? Asking why is a great way to foster better understanding, even if you still disagree.
- Listen. The reason it’s hard to listen is we’re often formulating our own response while the other person is talking. But there will be time to formulate our response later. The only time to really listen is when they’re communicating. If we’re honest, most of us know when someone is truly listening to us. It feels so much different than when they’re simply waiting their turn to present their case.
- Remember that you’re on a journey. You arrived at your position/beliefs over a period of time. Probably most of your life. There’s a good chance that you haven’t always believed/thought what you currently do. And there’s even a chance you may one day change your beliefs. This step helps create a respectable level of humility as we engage with others.
- Remember the other person is also on a journey. I’ve had countless conversations with people who are on similar journeys to my own. They’re simply at a different place on the journey. Let them proceed at their own pace. Give them time and encouragement to think, reflect, engage, and even possibly come around to your beliefs. It won’t happen overnight.
- Remember that you’re created in God’s image. When your beliefs or your personhood is attacked or belittled, rest in the knowledge that your value is unaffected by the words and accusations and beliefs of anyone else. God made you, and God gave you value and worth. Whether you’re in the right or in the weeds, you are still an image bearer of your Heavenly Father.
- Remember the other person is also created in God’s image. When you’re tempted to think or say unkind things about the person who disagrees with you, when you want to challenge their intelligence, or their morality, or their culture, or their track record, remember this is a person who is deeply loved by your Heavenly Father. Imagine someone saying those same unkind things to your precious child…would you want to hear that? We can be honest and even disagree without destroying or dehumanizing someone made in God’s image.
Six simple steps to avoid being a jerk. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but it does mean we can choose to implement them. What will you choose the next time you face disagreement?
Yes, I’m talking about what everyone’s talking about. The used-to-be-simmering-now-boiling-over conversation about racism and the legacy of racialization in this country. It’s a full-fledged bonfire of emotions, history, sound-bites, hatred, and confusion. What can you do?
I humbly offer the following suggestions as a way to stop pouring more gas on the fire, and a roadmap toward a better society and a better world. My comments are directed at those who desire to be followers of Jesus. If you’re not in that group, feel free to disregard my comments.
What to STOP doing: (because these actions make the fire bigger)
- Shouting – Honestly, does anyone like to be yelled at? Has shouting ever changed anyone’s mind? If you want an interesting exercise, check out who shouts at whom in the New Testament. (Hint: Jesus never shouts at anyone)
- Hating people – I know the Bible says “hate what is evil, cling to what is good.” (Newsflash: The rest of that passage will pretty much take the wind out of the hate-sails we’re hoisting…check it out here.) The problem is that we seem to really struggle in the area of “hating the ideology but not the person.” We end up shooting the messenger. Which incites more hatred. More gas on the fire. That person whose ideas make you want to throw up, well that’s a person that was created in the image of God. That’s a person that God loves enough to send his Son to die for. That’s a person who is worth redeeming.
- Assuming – This may be the hardest thing to stop doing. Because we’re wired to make quick assessments of everything around us. Whether it’s the way someone else looks, dresses, drives, eats, votes, or speaks, we make assumptions. We assume they don’t have the brain power we do. We assume they have marginal literacy skills. We assume that we know their motives, their heart, their history, and their intentions. More gas on the fire. There’s a better way…
What to START doing (these will actually illuminate the way forward)
- Listening – Not just listening to people who agree with me, but more importantly, listening to people who are different than me. People with a different political affiliation, or a different skin color, or a different economic background, or a different country of origin, etc. This means having an honest to goodness conversation. Actually, MANY conversations. We usually call that a friendship. (This is the problem with “unfriending” everyone with whom you disagree.) Jesus was friends with all kinds of people who held all kinds of beliefs, many of them diametrically opposed to Jesus own beliefs. He even invited a tax collector (one of the most hated figures in his day) to be part of his inner circle of friends! And I submit to you that you’ll get more useful and accurate information by sitting down and listening to friends who are different than you than you will ever get from listening to the news headlines. I know that my own life has been enriched and transformed by the countless conversations (sometimes painful to hear) from friends who have spoken truthfully about their experiences, their beliefs, and their lives. (Thank you to Harold, Dianne, Rosco, Nelson, Dwighd, Ricky, Tim, Wayne, Sonia, Bruce, Angela, Alvin, Warren, Uriel, Alex, Michael, Sohko, Mary, Jennifer, and so many more…)
- Understanding – We all have blinders and blind spots. When we listen and begin to understand, those blind spots get smaller. If we can’t articulate WHY that other person believes what they do, then we are only making assumptions (see list above). If we don’t know WHY someone believes what they do, we succumb to what psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error.” IOW, our brains will MAKE UP a reason for their beliefs/actions. And usually the reason we settle on is this: they’re stupid. Really? We can do better. You don’t need to AGREE with the other person, just understand. Understanding is the path forward.
- Praying – I’m not talking about “pray and do nothing.” I’m talking about praying first. And last. And in between. Jesus himself calls us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And he said that to people living under foreign occupation. They couldn’t vote for anyone. They couldn’t protest without facing execution. They had no rights at all. If we would spend half as much time praying for those we disagree with as we do commenting and posting about them, where would we be? Pray for others to have an encounter with Jesus. Pray for them to learn to love God and love their neighbor as themselves. Pray for them to be concerned with justice for all. Pray for God’s kingdom to come in their life. Pray for them to see the errors in their own lives. And then pray for yourself. Pray for patience and wisdom. Pray for the peace of God that transcends all understanding to guard your heart and your mind. (see Philippians 4:6-7) Pray for the fruit of the Spirit to be born out in your own life. (see Galatians 5:22-23) More praying, less posting.
- Speaking truth to power – There is injustice in our world. In some places it is state sanctioned. It other places it is woven into the fabric of the culture. But just like the prophets of the Old Testament, we have opportunities to speak God’s truth to those in power. It might be to a friend, a co-worker, a family member, an elected official, or a business owner. The truth is that God’s plans for humanity have been sabotaged by sin. And the enemy of God has used every opportunity to build “dividing walls of hostility.” But the gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God to tear down every wall that separates and rescue us from the lies of the enemy.
The ideology that was represented by the “alt-right” movement in Charlottesville last weekend is the exact opposite of the kingdom of God that Jesus came to launch. Jesus’ kingdom is inclusive of “every nation, tribe and tongue.” And the church of Jesus Christ is called to be a place where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.”
Jesus calls his church to be a light in the dark world. Not a bonfire that rages out of control and consumes and destroys, but a light that shines brightly, illuminating the way forward. So instead of throwing more fuel on the bonfire of racial turmoil, I challenge you to ignite the H.O.P.E. of Christ in this world. I welcome your comments below…even if you disagree with me. 😊