the Empathy List #61: How to Disagree and Stay Friends
Skills the Evangelical Church Never Taught Me, Part 1
Hey friend, Liz here.
When’s the last time you disagreed with someone? In person? And proceeded to have a calm conversation in which you both expressed your viewpoints? And felt heard? And stayed friends afterward?
I realize the enormity of every one of those questions because, yes, I too waste time on Facebook, where arguments abound… ;-)
(Side note: the reason I’m not on Twitter is because it exacerbates my own tendency to PRESS IN to the hard conversation, which is an utterly unfruitful way to spend my time with only a few characters at my disposal and without an *actual* relationship with whoever’s disagreeing with me.)
That said, I believe disagreement happens in healthy, IRL relationships. Always. If disagreement isn’t happening, than someone isn’t being honest.
The way to push through disagreements is NOT to silence one party, to make one voice dominant and exalted, to distribute power like popcorn. The way is listening and empathy. (Surprise! You had to guess I’d go there.)
To hear someone out—when you strongly disagree—requires a level of patience and humility that just isn’t rewarded on social media. But such qualities are essential to Christian faith.
Because, by the way, when you have a healthy relationship with your divinity, the two of you will disagree. Often.
We are all the prophet Jonah, jumping overboard into frothy waters, to escape the “wonderful plan God has for our lives.”
As a teenager, I dreaded the future. I understood that God was a distinct person from myself, and so had a distinct will. To boot, I knew that God was all-powerful, which meant God could bend me into all sorts of situations I’d HATE with all my angsty teenage heart.
Would God buy me a ticket to Africa, where I’d live in a hut, preach barefoot and smell of Deet for the rest of my life? Would I have the chance to let my adorable husband unfasten my bra before Jesus returned on a cloud, blowing raspberries into a shofar, to rapture me into boring, old heaven? (Please let me have sex first, I prayed earnestly.) Would I be destined to birth a truckload of screaming children? Would I ever get to use my brain? Would I ever have fun again?
Yet I missed the essential piece: to maintain a relationship, you must build trust. So, even if God didn’t give me a boyfriend (which was my dearest 18-year-old wish), even if my political party differs from friends, even if my pastor holds an opposing theological position on women in ministry (sigh), the question isn’t how can I convince them to believe like me? The question, instead, is can I trust them? And even, what can I learn from them? What am I missing?
The way to demonstrate trust and respect is to hold your tongue. To listen. To hear. To ask for the chance to express yourself and be listened to. And then to let it go.
This is another way of saying, respect the boundaries of each person’s individual self. We are not the same people, so we won’t see things the same, even about arenas in which we want the rules to be drawn in thick, immovable sharpie lines.
If you want to have a functional relationship with another human, the way forward is to show you trust them by releasing your need to be right.
You can let them be wrong. (Just like they can let you be wrong. ;-)) You’ll live, I promise.
…And you might even be surprised by what you discover on the other side of the sharpie line.
Friends, this is the start of a series in which I plan to explore the skillsets the Evangelical church never taught me.
Even so, there are MAJOR THINGS for HEALTHY ADULT LIVING that I never learned to do until I walked through the door of a therapist and began shelling out thousands to get well.
I do not blame my pastors, necessarily, for this; I realize we all have our personal strengths and weaknesses. But I do blame the big c Church, the Evangelical subculture which cultivated conflict avoidance, particularly in women. Which is why I’m addressing this head-on.
My aim is to speak to my people—us Evangelicals—as one of them. I hold historic Christian beliefs, while embracing progressive political ideals, which I realize sounds in opposition, but I believe religion holds room for paradox.
We need to change, starting yesterday.
>>If you know of someone who might connect with my words, would you pass along my email to them?<<
As always, thanks for reading along. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
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