When Disagreement Gets Personal

Forgive me, I’m going to rant for a bit here.

I’ve been around long enough to understand that when it comes to the news, there must be a focus. This is the foundation of every article, report, op-ed piece, etc.

And there’s plenty to discuss.

As a Christian, I’ve been accused of many things. One guy told me that I was poisoning my children (since I don’t have any children of my own, I’m assuming he meant my step-children), that I was practically personally responsible for outlawing stem cell research and causing millions of potential deaths in the future, and that I was essentially a very judgmental and dangerous person – among other things.

This glowing character assass-, er, evaluation came via a comment on Facebook from a guy I’d never met in my entire life. As far as I can tell, he had no background information on my faith, my political views, or my home life, and he certainly didn’t know me personally. But in one fell swoop he managed to toss me in a box, label it “fundamentalist whack job”, and wrap it up in a nice neat bow of judgment, intellectual superiority, and scorn.

Now, I realize that “no one ever won an argument on Facebook, ever” and I’ve had many discussions on many topics in that social format which are probably not going to change anyone’s feelings on whatever the discussion is about. I sometimes hope, but that’s okay, I don’t always agree with things my friends post on Facebook either. As a “Bible-thumping” Christian in today’s world, my opinion (doesn’t really matter on what, it seems) is oftentimes not only viewed as intolerant, but in some cases (as mentioned above) “dangerous”, “mean”, “archaic”, and “irrelevant”.

It staggered me to see someone so angry with me, who’d never met me before, had no idea of my personal motivation (to reason, to explain, to give a different perspective, to love unconditionally) to lambaste me so critically. What was the subject about? Honestly, it doesn’t even matter. For people who know me, I have melted to mush when I’ve heard, “I know that you’re coming from a place of love, I just don’t agree” and that is the biggest compliment they could say to me. They know my heart. They know I love them, even if they disagree with me or I them.

I have yet to be called a bigot, which would be quite ironic, since I did change my opinions. So I’ve seen both sides of certain hot topic arguments and have changed my worldview based on logic and reason and, ultimately, faith. How many of us today can say the same thing?

For your edification, this is Webster’s definition of a bigot:

a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

I like healthy discussion and I love my friends, family, co-workers, and even people I have never met. I understand that my personal opinions on some topics will make some people, on principle, frustrated.  I feel the same way sometimes. I also understand, all too well, that some people just do not “get” where I am coming from.  It doesn’t, in any logical way, resonate with them intellectually.  It is folly. It’s ridiculous. I know the feeling because I’ve felt it, too. Do I judge people for what they do in their private life, no. Do I know how God feels about it? Yes. Have I done things in my private life that God doesn’t approve of? I certainly have. Do I love people any less? No. Does it make any difference to me? Absolutely not.

So why not?

It comes back to having walked a few miles in those shoes. I have broken every single Commandment (especially in light of Jesus upping the ante in the New Testament – check out Matthew 5 sometime) so I know all about “sin” (a word most people, I find, really do not like hearing) because, apparently, I’d unintentionally mastered it. This is not me bragging about past exploits or saying I have it all figured it out now. This is me saying, I don’t judge because how can I judge someone else for doing something I’ve already done? That’s ridiculous. And hypocritical.

The problem is that when some of us even get a hint of guilt, we go on the offensive. No one likes to feel bad. Or guilty. Or ashamed. So rather than feel those emotions (or convictions), it’s easier to go on the offensive rather than really examine why we feel that way. I know this, too, because I’m a master of deflection. I don’t throw myself under the bus to be falsely humble, I throw myself under the bus because I’m guilty like everyone else. Anyone with the ability to remember knows what it feels like to be chastised or corrected by a parent, a teacher, a boss, or a friend.

It’s unpleasant. All we want to do it make it stop or find someone else to blame. It’s like tickling. The initial response isn’t to laugh, it’s to make the other person stop. But feeling uncomfortable about something in a healthy way is not a bad thing, it leads us to examine our actions, our motivations, and hopefully, bring about some kind of wisdom. But it is never, if ever, immediate and to expect that from each other when we debate or discuss is not only pointless, it’s unreasonable. We need time to process our feelings, examine where our own faults lie, and find a way to make sense and move forward. For some of us, it takes some time, but we eventually own it and act on it. For others, there is no debate, there is no discussion, there is no self-realization. It is the other person’s fault. End of story.

When I discuss a topic, I have a position. A worldview. So does whomever I’m speaking with. We are equally allowed our personal viewpoints. One of us may be right, one of us may be wrong, we may both be partially right, or equally completely wrong.  That does not make either one of us “better” than the other. In fact, when I discuss something that is particularly important to me, I force myself to remember what my opinions were before I became a Christian so that I can empathize and understand the other person’s viewpoint.

I remember having political discussions with my husband (at the time, he was a conservative Christian and I was a bleeding heart liberal agnostic) and I distinctly remember thinking the very same things about him that people now accuse me of!  Ha ha!

As Dr. J. Vernon McGee would say, “My chickens had come home to roost.” (And people say Bible-thumping Christians are judgmental!) So I know what it’s like to be utterly frustrated by someone whose opinion does not line up my own and to feel absolutely dumbstruck by their seemingly ridiculous worldview – and to assume that I am somehow smarter, better, and more moral.

So I just want to reiterate this one point when it comes to disagreement because I grow so tired of people (I’m not going to accuse just liberals of this because I’ve seen conservatives do it, too) using the words:

  • hypocrite
  • hate
  • bigot
  • judgmental
  • stupid
  • crazy
  • brainwashed
  • sheeple

Believe it or not, even if we think we are right, those words – by definition – are judgmental and bullying. Bullying is not just for playgrounds and high school, it applies everywhere. So even though we may feel our cause is just, calling someone else names, makes us the kind of bully we profess to want to stop. Think about that for a second. Okay, now think about it for a few seconds more. One more time, for good measure. Attack the argument, not the person.

To be clear, disagreement is not hate. Following up on personal beliefs at a political level is the foundation of our worldview. There is no separation between church and state when it comes to life because we vote our conscience in all arenas, not just the political. Your “church” may not be God, but it could easily be your belief that there is no god, or there are several, or that science is the be-all-end-all.

And, let’s be honest, people may scream for tolerance and for others not to judge (unless it applies to a belief system they don’t agree with), but all of us do it every single day. We are all judgmental, from clothes to movies to games to personal choices to faith (or not) to parenting to public personalities – every single one of us. Having an opinion is okay. Delivering it badly is not. That is the distinction. There is a time and a place for everything. There is also this little thing called tact. And before we are to open our mouths, we need to consider something crucial: what is our motivation?

  • Do we love someone and don’t want to see them hurt?
  • Do we simply have a different viewpoint on how “that thing” should be done?
  • Are we angry at a perceived injustice?
  • Are we frustrated at the world in general and this is just one more “thing” to add to the list?
  • Does our personal experience somehow cloud our judgment on that issue because we were “burned”?

One of the greatest things I heard at a Love and Respect conference is this. Most people are good-willed people. They do not wake up in the morning and say, “Wow, I really hate everyone, how can I screw them over in some way today?” Most people’s intentions are good, even if (on both sides, remember) sometimes misguided. I say most people because there are plenty of people out there whose only goal is to further their own selfish agendas and they are not at all concerned about who may end up as collateral damage along the way.

My approach in any argument is usually, what does God have to say on the matter? He is my ultimate authority through the Bible. And, given His opinion, and my motivation to love my friends and family and fellow human beings, I usually take that stance. For example, I’m not pro-life because I want to remove the rights of a woman when it comes to her body, but I want to protect the right to life of the infant inside her, too.

Obviously, I want everyone to go to Heaven and stay the heck out of Hell, but I also realize that there are just going to be people who either don’t want to believe, disagree on some critically fundamental concepts, or don’t even think about eternity because death is, quite frankly, scary. I can’t argue people into Heaven and they can’t argue me out of it. It’s free will, and we all have it.

So, at the end of the day, the point is this: agree, disagree, debate, disagree some more. Do it.

Even God said, “Come, let us reason.” But consider the approach and the words chosen because they are powerful and enduring. Anyone who has ever held on to a bad review, a dig, a slight, a hurtful exchange, a horrible argument, an unnecessarily harsh or unfounded opinion, or a painful conversation knows exactly how that feels. And, if we are ever on the delivering end of that painful exchange, we must suck it up and have the decency to apologize because unless we have no conscience whatsoever, we know when we have crossed the line.

I’m not going to lie, owning up to mistakes and bad judgment when it comes to word choice, is hard. If it was easy, the Blame Game wouldn’t be a global best seller available in every language. It takes a big person to admit when he is wrong and a bigger person to humbly apologize (not the back-handed apologies that come with a “but”) and seek forgiveness for hurtful words.

So what about the person on the receiving end? In the end, another quote from Love and Respect: our response is our responsibility. The phrase “You made me” does not and will not ever wash with me, nor should it for any human being with a brain and a mind of his own. It takes the whole notion of free will out of the equation and deflects guilt, shame, or anger back onto the other person, who may have been sincere and loving in their delivery.

Own it.

Expect that it’ll take some time to get over the hurt feelings, but listen to the message. Did they have a point? In business, there have been many times that I hated the delivery, but I listened to the message because it was valid. Sometimes it took longer than other times to get there, but eventually I did. I had to get through many layers of personal feelings and irritation at the word choice, but had to acknowledge the validity of the argument or point if it was sound. And there were plenty of times that my direction changed based on some valid suggestions.

At the end of the day, words are powerful. They can lift up and tear down. We are equally entitled to our opinions, but we are also equally responsible for how we express them. We can’t control how someone is going to take them, but we can control our delivery, our motivation, and it’s our responsibility to do so. But, with anything, a grain of salt works wonders, too. If anyone is looking to be offended, they will be.

One thought on “When Disagreement Gets Personal

  1. I agree with a lot of this, especially the way we tend to shrink and grow defensive when others manage to prick our guilt. And so much of the communication we have is “violent” and doesn’t seem to come from a place of acceptance or good faith in others. Modern life makes us hard and swift to judge, I think, because everything is so swift!

    For those who don’t know, there’s a model called “Non Violent Communication” (NVC) designed by Marshall Rosenberg – it’s very concrete and that helped my engineer brain. The guy knows his stuff. It covers basically all of this; how to recognise and own your needs and wants, to explain your feelings in a non-judging way, to use empathy rather than sympathy, and lots more. It’s been a big eye-opener for me.

    I have some questions for you. You say you know how God feels about things – can a person know the mind of God, or is it only what people think God says, filtered through all their human flaws?

    When you say there is no separation between church and state, because our ‘church’ informs our interaction with the state, does that mean the state is an instrument of our particular church? And if so, that the members of the biggest church get to exert their will over other churches, simply because of that size? Or, are there aspects of life where we collectively should forbid all churches to coerce anyone of a different church?

    I believe we’re not in agreement generally when it comes to abortion, but I think we do both see it as a balancing of rights; the rights of the woman and the rights of the fetus. I see it through the lens of minimising suffering which makes balancing those rights very complex and also very case-by-case, but I would like to know your ideals for that balance. Also, who is the person best equipped to figure out that balance? Is it the mother, or the church, or the state?

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