This is the second of ten posts about discussing strong disagreements. See the series summary, with links to published posts here.
Discussion doesn’t work unless you’re working together. If you don’t share a goal, you’ll end up arguing, debating, or otherwise competing instead of discussing. And though your goal will change to a certain degree based on the questions you ask, every discussion shares a central goal: agreeing about truth.
This central goal is simple and noble. It has two parts: truth, which is the same no matter what you think, and agreement, which depends on you. Affirming it it means saying, “No matter what reality looks like, I want to see it the way it is, and I want to see it with you.” That means faithfulness: intellectual integrity and relational integrity, hand in hand. It's the first step to laying a solid foundation for discussing strong disagreements.
Let's look at both parts of the affirmation.
In order to affirm that truth is your goal, you must believe that it's out there and that it's sufficiently discoverable. A pure skeptic wouldn't ever be able to make that affirmation, and partial skeptics (most everyone) sometimes won't be able to make it. On some issues, affirming that the truth is discoverable takes a willful act of trusting Christ. Only then will you really be ready to discuss.
Likewise, in order to affirm that truth is your goal, you must submit your opinions to it. You must be willing to change your mind and reject your errors. If you aren't willing, then truth isn't really your goal; power or the appearance of correctness have replaced it, and you aren't yet ready for discussion.
Second, in order to affirm that agreement is your goal, you must pledge faithfulness to your discussion partner. Sometimes one person finds truth first. Sometimes they even enter the discussion with it, whether they realize it or not. Yet affirming that agreement is your goal means that, even if you've lassoed truth and got it tied down tight, you won't stop working until your discussion partner has it too. You're in this together, and no one gets left behind. Making this affirmation commits you to patient, productive teamwork.
So do it! Form a team with the people with whom you disagree, and walk out into the water. Help each other get to the truth that's past the deep end.
Now don't get me wrong: This posture of mutual truth-seeking is very hard to maintain while you disagree. If you really think you’ve seen reality the way it is, if you think it’s simple and clear and pure, yet your discussion partner does not see what you see, then it’s easy to try to shift blame onto her. “She’s refusing to see the truth,” you’ll think. “She won’t listen to reason!” You’ll say, “Are you dumb or something?” And because of your impatience over your difference, discussion will begin a shift toward opposition.
The nobler thing to do, and the response that supports discussion so far as it depends on each individual, is to take responsibility for your difference. Ask, “What if, by God’s Spirit, she’s right?” “Have I listened, not just to her words, but to her meaning?” Say, “If what I believe is true, then it deserves better description and support than I’ve given it thus far. I’ll try to speak better on its behalf for the sake of my friend. Maybe then we’ll see truth together!”
Work for unity, taking responsibility for your part, rather than casting blame. Remember: your goal is a shared goal. You're responsible to each other to reach it.
Mutual truth-seeking is also hard for a simpler reason: it’s sometimes hard to admit we are wrong, or to allow ourselves to see the world more truly. It hurts our pride to say we're wrong. Rather than succumbing to pride, however, remind one another that discovering an intellectual error does not demonstrate that the discoverer is dumb. Rather, uncovering and acknowledging errors is a sign of intellectual growth: of intelligence. Counter-intuitively, the more you bring your ignorance is to light, the more intelligent you are. It means you are free from falsehoods, and therefore closer to truth. We'll say more about this when we examine the third principle: "You aren't your ideas."
In the meantime, prepare for your nearing difficult discussion by praying for God's grace. Ask him to make you faithful so that when you pick up your goal - agreeing about truth - you'll have the courage to stick to it, in both its aspects. Turn the goal over in your mind a few times. Are you ready to affirm that truth is your goal, no matter what it looks like? Are you ready to affirm that you want to get there with your discussion partner, even though the going will get rough? What would it take for you to affirm these things not weakly, but resoundingly? Do that.
Because, remember: it's worth it. The opportunity that's ahead of you is a relationship that's closer because of discussed disagreement, and a mind that's more purely like Christ's. Prepare to pursue it with all your skill and passion.