Introduction

When we strongly disagree, it's hard to have good discussions. Interactions can quickly turn into debates, fights, power struggles, or definitive and inflexible expressions of difference. It's easier to become offended or hurt. It's harder to act as if we are on the same team. That's true even when we're as close as family, or as committed as friends.

See, sometimes the people with whom we disagree most strongly are also our most important discussion partners. A couple days ago, I attended a seminar for parents and grandparents on challenges youth face, and about what they could do to help. Talking to attendees after the seminar, I heard stories about disastrous confrontations between parents and youth on points of strong disagreement. I saw fear in parents' faces as they anticipated conversations to come. I felt with them the pain of seeing their most-loved people in startling opposition to their most-loved things, values, and ideas. They asked, over and over, "How do we talk about it?"

Those discussions are hard, and for the sake of love, they are sometimes necessary. Parent/child relationships aren't the only context that can necessitate discussion of difference, though they are a particularly fraught, painful context. Sometimes friendships, if they are to continue with any depth, require discussion of disagreements. Romantic relationships. Work relationships. You name it. They all have this in common: strong disagreement can either become a wedge, forcing people apart and making their relationships smaller and more limited, or they can be a point of connection. And discussion provides that connection through understanding while maintaining honesty about difference. It's incredibly valuable.

Now, discussions are not always sufficient responses to difference. Sometimes we need to agree on patterns of action that accommodate our differences ("When we're in this place, we'll behave this way, just until we figure things out"), even before any shared understanding is reached. Sometimes we need not to understand, but simply to be seen. In other words, action-plan meetings or vulnerable times of sharing can also be essential responses to strong disagreement. Discussion isn't the only activity that will help.

But it can help: it can provide understanding in a way that is unparalleled. Because that goal is worth it, we should take the risk: start the hard work of discussion. Because it's hard, though, we might as well enter the discussions well-prepared. As you approach a discussion about a strong disagreement with someone you love - your children or parents or friends or colleagues - here are eight principles you could agree to in advance, principles that lay a foundation for discussions that draw you together, not shove you apart. If you sit together and agree to each of the following principles, you will be much more likely to succeed. God bless your difficult discussions!
 

Contents

First, affirm that agreeing about truth is your shared goal.

You must be a team to really discuss.  Read more...

Second, affirm that you don’t know how long it will take to reach your goal.

Good discussions deserve a long time. You might have to pause and pick up your discussion many times before you make satisfying progress. Read more...

Third, affirm that you aren’t your ideas.

Our ideas change a lot. Some of them are good for us, and some are bad for us. But they aren't us, so changing them doesn't mean we're more or less valuable, and having different ideas doesn't make us different kinds of people.  Read more...

Fourth, pursue honesty and clarity.

Honesty and clarity are the best tools for truth-finding. They make you practice service to truth while you search for new truths.  Read more...

Fifth, keep action plans separate from discussion.

Actions plans seem more urgent than understanding when we disagree, and it's good to come up with them, but they can derail the patient search for truth.  Read more...

Sixth, keep expressions of authority separate from discussion.

Sometimes critiquing authorities' ideas is impertinent. Sometimes expressing and enforcing authority is important. But that isn't ever true during discussion. During discussion, everyone is on the same team. It must be a level playing field, even if only a temporary one.  Read more...

Seventh, affirm that God knows truth, and he knows us, and he cares infinitely about both.

Love and truth go together, always. If you think you've found one but it doesn't keep company with the other, then you've made a mistake. Look to the Lord, who gives both generously.

Finally, don't despair.

You were made to find truth. You were made to love each other. Be patient. Don't give up.

 

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