My idea of home remodeling is finally remembering to take the Christmas decorations down a few weeks into January, so needless to say, I’m not a huge design/construction TV watcher. That said, I recently had a lot of friends sharing a post from Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper, whether they were fans of the show or not. (Go ahead—read it. It’s short.)
Many of the comments or captions for re-posts I saw revolved around two short lines: “Listen to me, we do not all have to agree with each other. Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”
“Yes,” fans responded, “this is what I wish people realized.” “This put into words what I want my family members and friends to understand.” “PREACH.”
And something in me said, “Wait.”
Before you freak out on me, I completely agree with that part of Chip and Joanna’s blog post. But here’s my question: who is this message preaching to? Who should understand this and put it into action? Who needs this revelation to land on their soul and let it sink in deep?
Me. Not everyone else out there who is intolerant of my opinions. I am the one those lines are addressing.
I’m reading through Proverbs right now, and I realized that, while occasionally one will hit me and make me think, “Yeah, I need to work on that,” most of the time, I see other people and their problems in the lines. I take a bit of wisdom and think, “Oh, totally. I wish everyone I knew lived like this” or “Yes, I know so many people who don’t seem to get that even though it’s so obvious.”
This is 100% the wrong approach. Also 100% arrogant, in a weird way. Isn’t it funny how the whole world revolves around us…until it comes to pointing out sin? Then, it’s about anyone but us.
Not convinced? Here are other examples: I listen to sermons and glance around to make sure so-and-so is listening. I read books and see myself as the hero, not the villain. I write my workplace evaluation or a critique of our culture and think of the problems others are causing, but not how I contribute or respond badly.
Back to Chip and Joanna’s post. So many people resonated with: “Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”
And yet…when someone disagrees strongly with you, isn’t your first instinct to be just a little bit defensive?
Isn’t it nice to have a circle of friends where everyone has similar beliefs and values?
Don’t you get annoyed and feel the need to fight back when someone makes a critical comment on something you post on social media?
I know those are all true for me.
In my head, I agree that disagreement is not the same thing as hate. But I believe that lie in practice every time I avoid certain subjects out of fear, insult other people behind their back, and wish I could go through life without my beliefs and opinions being challenged by people smarter than me.
Bottom line? I am willing to disagree boldly, but not graciously. I am willing to fight hate everywhere but inside myself. And this is not okay.
Change is hard. Disagreement is tricky. Other people are both the best and the worst at different times.
But that doesn’t give us an excuse to preach grace without practicing it. So here’s my challenge, especially on an Inauguration Day at the end of a controversial election season: have convictions, but remember that if you want civil dialogue, you can’t just demand it from others. You have to create it.
How, you ask? Here are some thoughts:
- Assume the person talking to you is not a terrible person.* Or stupid, or intentionally cruel, or just regurgitating information from fake news sites and talk radio. They may be some of those things in part. But when you have respect for the person you’re talking to, it shows, and it makes the conversation significantly more helpful.
- Make your goal to love others better. If that’s too abstract for you, make your goal to learn about the other person and to help them learn about you, instead of winning an argument. Pretend you’re trying to find the strongest reasoning for the other side, or that you really need to understand why others disagree with you on this.
- Talk to people in person when you can. Seriously, blog/YouTube/Facebook comments seem to be the place where kindness and decency go to die. When you feel you need to, intervene in those spaces to bring a bit of grace. But there are other times when the best medium is a nice chat over coffee.
- Choose to remember that people are astonishingly complex even when their statements are painfully shallow. By that I mean that each and every person is a masterpiece of God, even when they are making generalizations, using bad logic, or venting their emotions. If you can graciously point out what troubles you, do it. If you can graciously overlook an offense, DO IT—I think there are significantly more times where this is the best thing to do.
Let’s continue speaking out about issues that matter to us, using good logic (while not being afraid of emotion…but that’s a different post), and engaging in politics and other tricky conversations. That’s what Jesus’ command to be “in the world” involves. The “not of it” part talks about how we treat others and represent Christ while doing those things…and that’s the area I think the church has neglected recently.
What would you add to a list of tips for starting and engaging in civil dialogue?
*Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: I also think it can be helpful to assume that the person talking to you is a terrible person—and so are you. I didn’t say that it’s confusing and not as obviously practical when it comes to political discussions. However, I’ve found that understanding that we are broken people in a broken world gives me a ton of compassion when discussing difficult topics. Just a few examples: I can refuse to be offended even when someone is being offensive because I know I’ve done the same thing many times. I can understand why someone might desperately cling to a wrong idea, because if proven wrong, they’d lose a lot of their worldview. I never assume that I’m right about everything because I’ve been wrong so often (or right with the wrong motives). A healthy view of depravity (the Fall) can be just as helpful as a healthy view of the dignity of others before God (the Image) when interacting with others.