Here’s another question asked by a reader who kindly took the time to give me writing suggestions. (Thanks, Joe!) How do we handle the unwritten rule to cease from talking about sex, religion, or politics with family and friends? How do we have civil discourse on contentions topics?
Since, right or wrong, I’ve nearly always avoided contentions conversations, let me begin by recommending an article by Scott Rae and Tim Muehloff, How to Disagree Without Dividing – Biola Magazine – Biola University. (Biola is the alma mater of three of my four kids.) The whole article is worth your time, but here are the highlights.
- Our aim should be respectful disagreement, communicating in ways that preserve one another’s dignity, even when we disagree.
- When the relational aspect of a conversation is broken, no one cares about the content. If I don’t feel respected by you, if I feel like you don’t acknowledge my position, then I don’t care about your argument.
- Paul told us to speak the truth in love. We love our friends. We love our enemies. We ought to be able to convey those things in our conversations, even the contentious ones.
- We live in an argument-prone culture where we tend to demonize each other. Finding common ground with those “on the other side” is seen as compromise and weakness. This is wrong. If we value relationships, why not start our conversations with common ground, then move toward areas of disagreement, keeping our convictions while still valuing our relationships?
- For example, we might start a conversation with, “I know we disagree about this issue, but I’m not sure I understand all of the reasons why you feel that way. Could you talk to me a bit about your conviction on this issue?” Aim to understand both what another person is thinking, and the reasons behind that stance.
- When the conversation begins to heat up too much, try saying something like, “Hey, we’re not having a good conversation right now. What could we do to make it just a little bit better?”
A letter to the editor in a recent issue of Christianity Today summarized those same points by saying, in essence, “Keep your focus on explaining your position and listening to why the other person or people believe and act as they do. The conversation will always go bad if the focus is on why I am right and why you are wrong.”
Now that I’ve shared the wisdom of some very learned men with you, I’ll give you my take on the matter next week…
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