The distractions we currently face in our culture are those of intentionality, in my opinion, by something that wants to scatter us, confuse us, and isolate us from one another. The most growing, nurturing thing this world has to offer us is community with one another; but in the past few years, I’d assume we can all agree that our families and friendships have felt broken apart in some way, by difference of opinion.
I continue to see heavy hearts in people of all ages and dynamics, who feel hurt and disconnected— like someone placed a thick glass divider between them and multiple people who they love, but who have a different point of view.
Some of these conversations in our lives started as life giving: working for the justice of those hurt by a system, defending the defenseless, challenging feelings that were taught us in order to grow past them; and in kindness, gentleness, and understanding, those are conversations we need to still be having. Other debates weren’t as necessary, and moved past the “agree to disagree” point long ago, with no fruitful end goal to begin with. Simply put, in the last decade, social media platforms have expanded users’ belief that “someone wants to hear my opinion, and I have the right to say it”, no matter how divisive, insensitive, uneducated, unprompted, or ill-timed.
Not only have we grown to believe that we should share every thought we have (as I write this blog for my website, I’m not innocent either), but recently, there is a rapidly-accepted belief that if the people we converse with don’t fully agree with our point of view, or if they challenge us in any way, we should be encouraged not to listen to what they have to say. We shouldn’t only close our ears, we should allow our anger to puff us up, cut them off with our opinions instead of listening, and erase them from our lives.
That’s not lovingkindness. That’s not gentleness. That’s not reasonableness. That’s not forgiveness. It’s also not just. That’s not good.
So how then should we communicate to retrieve our lost connections with people who we care about, but who we disagree with?
Below, I’ve written out a few practical ways to attempt to reconnection, as well as a few spiritual. I am seeing my conversations become less tense and more fruitful since including them, and I hope you will experience something similar. Remember: you can’t control how the other person will respond, or what they will say. You only have control over yourself and your responses toward them. Also, let me make this clear: This is not intended to be taken as a list of excuses towards living a life of silence, not being vocal about what you believe is right and good. It’s a tool to help us reconnect with loved ones, and choose to love them even while disagreeing with them.
1. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).” Take a few deep breaths and step into this mindset before you enter the conversation. You control the atmosphere, whether you step into this conversation with a spirit of defensiveness, or with understanding.
2. Begin or redirect the conversation to ANYTHING ELSE. Don’t allow the focus or the cornerstone of your relationship to be the few things on which you disagree. Instead, talk intentionally about things you have in common. Do you both enjoy nature? Is there a fond memory you’ve shared in the past to bring up? It can be the city you live in, food, literally anything. This will allow you to begin your time with this person in a different mood. Instead of a divisive mood, you’ll subconsciously remind the person you’re speaking with that you care about each other, and they will let their walls down. You never want to begin a conversation with someone in defense mode.
If you both claim to be part of the same religion, discuss that in a fruitful way. If I’m speaking with a Christian person, I’ll try to remind them of that, and connect in that way. How has the Holy Spirit helped us get through this year? Do we feel like we’ve been closer or farther away from God lately? Why?
3. Don’t allow yourself to get angry quickly (I have an issue with this one in conversations with people I care about). If they bring something up that you completely disagree with, or try to start talking about topics of conversations that are off-limits, don’t go into defense. Instead, breathe, listen to them, and attempt to decipher why they feel that way. We can’t expect people to listen to us if we’re not willing to listen to them. Make a point to allow them to feel heard, even if you disagree. Often (because of our current culture), they’ll be expecting a rebuttal from you. They may be subconsciously expecting a debate, because that’s what they’re used to-an adrenaline rush.
Don’t give it to them.
Don’t allow the conversation to go into debate. Instead, listen, and allow them to complete their statement without being cut off. If you have the capacity, you can gently and calmly ask questions, not with the intent of proving them wrong, but with the intent of understanding why they feel that way. I’ve seen that, most often, people disagree because they miscommunicate. If you can get to a place where you both understand the other’s point of view, you may see that you walk away from the conversation enlightened and closer, instead of angry and disconnected, even though you disagreed.
If you don’t have the emotional capacity to have that conversation, sit quietly and listen as they speak, and then gently change the subject towards something neutral. The easiest way to do this is to involve something presently relevant. What are they doing? What type of tea are they drinking? Where are you? Refocusing onto something not involved in your moment can seem out of left field, and could make them feel as though you’re uncomfortable, leading them to remember your differences, resulting in feeling disconnected from you.
4. Pray for one another. If this is a friendship that would allow for prayer together, pray together before you leave. If not, pray for them and yourself, afterwards. Something I’ve heard a lot lately that has tested my self control is the phrase in prayer, “...that the truth would come out.” This may seem perfectly wonderful, but it seems as though I’m only hearing it being prayed in the context of basically, “...help them think what I think. Help them see that I’m right.” This cannot be the case. God knows that our hearts, even in prayer, are not always pure of self gratification. Instead, repent of this, and pray that you both would be understanding of each other.
The goal is not to agree, the goal is to love each other.
Jesus was clear in Matthew 10 that sometimes, following Him wouldn’t mean unity with your loved ones, but instead that He came to “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother...”. However, He never encouraged divisiveness, and was even more transparent about how we were supposed to treat one another, even those we with whom we disagree: “Love one another, as I have loved you. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”