How to respectfully disagree

Posted: September 13, 2012 in Christian Living
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“Let’s just agree to disagree,” is a phrase I loathe. Maybe because I feel like it’s a cop-out and I’d rather calmly discuss the facts until we find out the truth.  And I feel like respectfully disagreeing is a more logical thing to do.

I like to be right. So do you. I mean who really enjoys being wrong? In a world with so many of us believing we are right we are bound to have disagreements. (This is especially true for people of faith) Imagine how many church splits could be avoided by simply learning how to respectfully disagree.

I have been involved in online discussions in the past where debating is usually respectful. But occasionally, someone will enter the discussion that lacks respect for those with opposing views. They use broad generalizations to personally attack those they consider to be their opponents, sometimes accusing them of being a fool or delusional. Over the years I’ve grown to be suspicious of too-neatly constructed arguments from debaters who have no desire to edify the church but only to build up themselves with an air of self-importance that accompanies pronouncements on how wrong the church is.

I believe we can disagree with someone while making them feel respected at the same time by practicing these simple rules:

Honor all people

We know the Bible says to honor all people. (1Peter 2:17) Just like love, it’s easier to honor those who honor us. But God has called us to love and honor even those who don’t deserve it. If we disrespect and make fun of people we disagree with, then we are not being honorable. I don’t know about you, but sarcasm seems to be my choice weapon when I get in a heated argument. I can do it in a funny way so it doesn’t seem that bad, but I’ve realized it can be really hurtful and disrespectful so I’m trying to limit my level of sarcasm.

Don’t just hear; Listen!

Remember the children’s game that involved one person whispering a story in someone’s ear and the others repeated what they heard until the last person repeated out loud what was said? When the last person repeated what they heard, most found out that they had missed very important parts of the story or misunderstood what was said. Everyone who took turns storytelling and listening would soon learn that they all had to improve their ability to listen. We should listen with the sole purpose of listening instead of just waiting for our turn to talk. It sounds simple but it’s very effective.

Don’t make it personal.

If you get upset, it can help to remember that you’re mad at the idea or concept, not the person. Avoid putting down the other person’s ideas and beliefs with broad generalizations. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of someone’s tirade or put-downs, you know how valuable using respectful language can be. So instead of saying, “Christians today are so stupid!” Instead try: “I don’t agree with what some Christians teach, and here’s why.” Resist the temptation to use sarcasm, or make derogatory comments and you’ll have a much better chance of getting your point across.

Stay calm or walk away.

Of course, it’s a huge challenge to stay calm and rational when you feel angry or passionate about something. If the person you’re talking to gets insulting, you may need to politely end the conversation before it gets too heated. (Even if the other person should know better)

Respect goes beyond difficult conversations, of course. Being helpful and considerate toward everyone in our everyday lives helps all of us establish a foundation for those times when we might disagree. Recognize that you’re not the only one interested in truth. This means giving the other person the benefit of the doubt regarding their pursuit of truth. Don’t automatically assume that, because they disagree with you or your theological views, that they are spiritually or intellectually inferior to you. John Wesley once said, “Never assume anyone sins because he disagrees with you.” Remember it’s OK to disagree. Conflict is not a bad thing; it’s just how you go about resolving it.

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