“If you two don’t stop fighting, I am going to pull this car over!” Have you ever heard those words? Maybe you have shouted them a time or two. My kids get along pretty well now, but there were times that they would disagree, loudly. It was often over something that I found inconsequential, but they were on opposite sides declaring war. I had a different perspective knowing that in time they would either resolve the problem or no longer even care about the thing that was causing conflict in the first place. My goal as their mother was to teach them how to work it out and hoped that as they matured they would find ways to resolve their issues that didn’t include bloodshed.
Can we disagree and be civil? If I believe differently than you, does that mean I am against you? Your enemy? Can we be on opposing sides and still be friends?
I am a Spartan. I bleed green. The passion I have for my alma mater, Michigan State University, is strong. Now, some of you may be making a face, rolling your eyes or perhaps jeering. Some of you could care less, Michigan State or University of Michigan, what’s the difference? Leading up to the State vs U of M football game is the usual ribbing back and forth. Most of it in good fun. Whether it’s leaving cupcakes with the rival team’s colors on my desk, sending random IM’s declaring “Go Blue or Go Green” or light-hearted memes posted on Facebook, the intent typically is not evil or hostile. After all, it’s just a game. What is surprising is how it can turn personal and ugly. How does “My school is better than yours!” become “I hate you and wish you would die!” in a flash? And that is just about a football game! When it comes to things that we really feel deeply about like our family, religion or politics things can get really out of control. How did we as people become unable or unwilling to see each other’s point of view or respectfully disagree?
I feel like I have more questions than answers! Thankfully, when I am looking for answers, I have a great place to turn. I have found guidance in the bible on how we can stand together even when we are on opposite sides. The following steps can help navigate potential conflicts.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5
Find yourself toe to toe with a friend on an issue? First, pray for understanding and sensitivity on how to reach out. Then, ask them questions about their position. What is the reason they believe what they do on a topic? How did they come to that conclusion? Asking questions can help you get perspective on where they stand.
Now the next step is an important one.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19
Listen not to respond, but to understand. This doesn’t mean you have to abandon your side, but when you take the time to hear your friend you will get a better idea of who they are and where they are coming from on the issue. Consider how you feel when someone takes the time to really listen to you. For me, I feel valued and understood.
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 21:23
Being respectful and speaking out of love is going to change the whole tone of a discussion. When we stop and take a breath before speaking we have a much better chance at communicating rather than clashing. Think before you speak may be cliché but it is excellent advice.
God is very creative! Can you imagine what the world would be like if we were all exactly the same? Boring! When we focus on where we agree there is a much better chance of finding common ground. Thankfully, God as our loving father has given us the tools and teaches us how to work it out. Will I ever be a U of M fan? NO! However, I still love and respect my friends who adore all things Maize and Blue. When it comes to things that really matter, I work to hear them out and find a way to stand together.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32