Four Faithful Ways to Disagree with Someone
By Blair Thompson-White
This year, your Fourth of July may include fireworks around the dinner table. A friend shared with me that she is dreading family time because her uncle will be there touting political opinions she strongly disagrees with...maybe you can relate.
Maybe like her you have tried various approaches in the past but nothing has worked so far: not speaking up when he says something you believe to be wrong doesn't sit right with your soul and arguing with him only raises your blood pressure and makes your mom say things like, "Honey, I wish you wouldn't cause trouble."
So what is the best way to disagree with someone?
1. Set the ground rules at the beginning.
Try saying something like: "I'm glad to see you and I want you to know that I respect you and your political beliefs. I wonder if we might talk about these important issues, but do so in a way that makes us both feel heard. I'll ask you questions and listen to you and then you do the same for me. I won't attack you or your ideas or use language that is belittling or mean. Let's try to model for our family how we can still have meaningful conversation but not hurt one another."
If your family member won't agree to this, it is as simple and challenging as setting a boundary. Say: "I'm sorry, but I won't be discussing anything political with you today." This may lead him to try to bait you with a comment he knows will make you want to engage. Catch yourself before you do and say again: "I'm sorry, but I won't be discussing anything political with you today."
Remember when Michelle Obama said, "When they go low, we go high"? The high road is refusing to engage in conversation that devalues either party involved. Creating boundaries between you and the other is ultimately life-giving for you both and the faithful thing to do.
For a great book about boundaries, read Boundaries by Henry Cloud. This is a must-read for everyone in a relationship with anyone...so literally every human being would benefit from reading this book.
2. Strive for greater understanding.
This is opposed to striving to convince someone that your position is the right one. Your uncle isn't going to change his mind because of a point you make. Take your desire to convert him to your side out of the equation. Instead, ask questions that help you to see where he is coming from; how his experiences, fears, and desires, shape his way of seeing.
Repeat back to him what you hear him say so he knows that you are listening. Most people just want to be heard; show that you are hearing him.
The space we cultivate between us and another person is critical. If we create positive energy in the space, it is more likely that a positive conversation will ensue that will lead to greater understanding on both sides. Maybe he won't change his mind about immigration policies but he will have more empathy for the immigrant...and that's not nothing.
3. Share stories, not statistics.
When you hear comments about whole groups of people that dehumanizes them, don't let it slide. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
I learned this lesson from a pastor who ministered to prisoners. He said one time he was in a group of prisoners having casual conversation and a prisoner made a derogatory comment about women. A week later, he heard the same prisoner saying the same comment to another group, only this time he added: "And the pastor agrees with me!" Silence can be taken as support of a position. The pastor told me that while it can be exhausting to constantly call out comments that are inappropriate, it is key to making the world a bit better.
Instead of remaining silent, make it personal: "The people you are talking about are some of my closest friends." Our faith tells us that each person is a beloved child of God, no matter what. Our responsibility is to speak this truth into conversation, to remind others that the 'other' is precious in God's sight, too.
4. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.
The Holy Spirit is our ever-present helper, counselor, advocate, wisdom-giver. When you are not sure what to say, or how to respond, or you feel your heart-rate rising, take a breath.
Remember the word for breath in the Bible is the same as spirit. God is as close to you as your breathing. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you clarity of thought and the right words to say and they will come. Go for a walk and pray for guidance, and listen. Let your inner teacher tell you what is the right thing to do.
How we engage with people who see things differently than we do is really important.
Jesus told us to pray for our enemies because he wanted us to always remember that they are human beings, too; they are loved by God, too. May we embody God's grace for all in how we talk with others with whom we disagree, not shying away from sharing our perceptive but doing so with love.
Do you have tips that you use? Leave a comment below.