what might loving those we disagree with look like?
I have some pretty strong opinions. I feel like I am reasonably bright. I read a good amount. I watch the news. I stay up-to-date.
Now, I don’t read as much as some. I’m sure not the smartest guy in the room. But I am pretty thoughtful.
I’ll bet you think of yourself the same way. Huh? Is that true?
And what do we do, you and I, when we have disagreements? What do we do when our views on masks or vaccines or politics or church not only don’t align, but feel antithetical?
Too often I solve that problem by, as my friend Pete Bondy says, “powering up!” I get bigger and try to be more persuasive. I use logic and bring all my “wise thinking” into play. I cite my references, draw my conclusions, and sometimes do so dripping with what might sound like condescension. Then I wonder why, not only have I failed to convince you, you don’t want to be with me.
Then, when I get frustrated with myself and my arrogance or judgmental attitude, I try to go small. I will avoid the conversation. I will listen and nod. And while I tend to avoid tense conversations that way, I don’t actually feel more loving or understanding, because inside I am critiquing everything you say. Outside we are cool. Inside I am smugly right.
Which of those is your go-to?
Someone defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Now I might be a little crazy sometimes, but insane? But by that definition I probably am. Therefore, I am trying to go a different direction when I find myself in conversation with someone I know I disagree with. I am trying to get myself to understand their position, as opposed to trying to get them to understand mine. I am trying to be curious, to push deeper rather than to counter.
Many years ago, when we were just starting Barnabas, we often referred to a book called Encouragement: The Key to Caring by Dan Allender and Larry Crabb. One of their points was to “pursue understanding rather than give advice.” If you want to encourage people, if you want to love them, try to understand them – particularly if you disagree with them. But boy is that hard!
The first book my book club read several years ago was called How to Think by Alan Jacobs. It was small and short but profound and brilliant. One of his challenges in the book was to pursue those with whom you disagreed so hard that you could restate their position and the reasoning behind it so well that they would say “you get it.” For me to do that requires a sense of curiosity that takes me past what you believe to why you believe it. It requires an understanding of the person and not just the position. It gets underneath the facts to the heart, even to your story and why this is so important to you.
And the result is a deeper sense of knowing the person. The result is that you give them a sense of respect. And often the result is an awareness of a larger complexity to the issue. And while I don’t think this is all that love requires, I do think it is a good start. So, let’s be curious together. I do think it would change the tone of some of our most difficult conversations.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.