Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dealing with disagreement

Col 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

I've picked some bad fights in my day. By and large, they have not been physical. But I tend to get drawn into arguments, particularly about theological and spiritual matters

These arguments usually end up falling into two camps: really bad, or really good. I seldom have an in-between experience. Either I feel like people are really listening and at least thinking about what I have to say, or I leave feeling verbally cut in two.

One of the really bad ones I got involved with because a church member (not here) recommended a website where he had been reading about all kinds of heresies in the church today. Upon checking out the website, I found that they spoke very negatively about teachers and authors that I had learned a great deal from. And many of the things they were saying were either false or gross exaggerations. In reading one of the articles, my blood started to boil, and I made my way to the comments line to defend one individual's beliefs and intentions. This turned into a rather long battle, across several different topics, by the end of which I had been compared to Satan for believing dialog was a useful tool for Christians, and having made no headway with anyone. I've tried to avoid the site ever since.

The only (so far) really good one started under similar circumstances. I was looking for discussion groups on theology, and found a group who again had a very different set of beliefs. Upon reading in the group, I found very similar problems...bad information and exaggerations. But this time, perhaps wary from previous failures, I took a different tack. I emailed the group's leader, and started asking questions, and offered to be a resources for better information, as I owned books from several of the authors they were concerned about. This began an email exchange, a new friendship, as we learned more about each other, and realized that though we have some big differences in some areas of belief, in others we were quite similar. When I did join in the discussion with the rest of the group, I had an ally in the group's leader, even when we disagreed. We tease each other as we discuss, and I have found several of the other members of the group to be very reasonable. We even took a break from debate to pray for one of the members who was going through a very hard time in life. Although there are still tense moments in our discussions, I get the feeling I am discussing amongst friends.

We all end up in disagreements now and again. Yours may differ from mine in terms of content. They may be about beliefs, or about treatment of others, or about wrongs done to one another, or ways to run an organization. But I bet we've had some similar experiences none the less. You've had some times where you had a disagreement with someone that left you feeling raw and beaten down. You've left a conversation you thought you were having with friends unsure of the future of the relationship.

So how do you end up having a good conversation? Some of the differences come in how the other party handles the disagreement. That, sadly, you cannot control. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, they will react in a hurtful way towards you.

But there are some things you can do, to try and handle the situation the best you can:

  1. Ask yourself...”Is this needed? Will someone benefit from this conversation?”

  2. Gage your audience. Will this person be receptive to what you have to say?

  3. Resist the urge to flinch. Take the time to thoughtfully respond to what is said, rather than reacting. This can make a world of difference.

  4. Really listen to what the other person has to say. They may have had experiences that give them a totally different view-point on the situation.

  5. Respect the personhood of the other party, even if they don't respect yours. They too are God's Creation, whether they realize it or not. Treat them how you would want to be treated.

  6. Give and take. Be willing to admit when the other person has a point.

  7. Know when to bail out. Sometimes a conversation ceases to be fruitful. Know when it's time to stop, even if just to step-back and breathe.

Conflict is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be a bad experience. It can be an opportunity to grow, to be challenged, even to build stronger relationships. May the conflicts that come your way be the good ones!


Greg said...

Good post.
The double-edged sword of the internet is anonymity. It's great to be able to open up and be immediately honest with people about topics you wouldn't as easily talk about in person.
However, that same openness applies to other people's anger and depravity.

The issues you brought up in this post are one of the biggest reasons why I gave up on 7Villages.

David Mullins said...

I didn't realize you ran into that there. Really, I wasn't sure anybody was talking on 7Villages. :-)