Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Make Way for Disagreement

If I could have learned one thing while growing up regarding getting along with others, it would have been to learn how to disagree.

I wasn’t taught it. We don’t teach it to our children today, in school or in the home. Instead, we force compliance to the notion that all ideas are good, all people are good and if we just accept one another and one another’s ideologies, world peace will flower on this planet and never wilt.

The only drawback to this soft focus dreamscape is that, in reality, not all ideas are good, nor people, and we do disagree.

When we never learn how to gracefully disagree—with tact—that is where war begins. (And if you’ve ever been a member of a family, church, business or social club, you know how local the battle can go).

We are brainwashed at an early age not to make waves. My idea/belief system/strategy/solution is good, but equally so is Bobby’s and Jane’s (or so we teach our kids). But wait, how can my idea/belief system/strategy/solution be equally good with Bobby’s and Jane’s if it is totally the opposite of Bobby’s and Jane’s (whose idea/belief system/strategy/solution I am internally opposed to, perhaps because I have already tried their way and found it lacking)?

The logic of kumbaya isn’t logical because it assumes we will—that we have the ability—to never disagree. It presupposes itself on the misguided notion that, like osmosis, we can simply vouchsafe amenability and acquiescence with our “No-Worries” wand and voila! No disagreement. Ever! It’s all “Skip to My Lou My Darling.”

We are ramrodded into group think that superficially thinks it is leveling the playing field via amiability, when in reality the “be nice” motif is building bombs of resentment in people’s hearts. Forcing people to agree ensures that we never will.

So what I wish I had learned to do is first to listen to the other person. I wish listening in an other-focused manner had been modeled to me. And then, to have learned how to apply considerate discernment to what others were saying. And to have done this from a foundation of sound morals and faith, learned from parents who learned it from God. In this way I would have learned to listen free of the fear that what the other person is saying is sure to derail me, resulting in a crisis of identity, faith or purpose.

Then, when the other person is done speaking, to have learned how to play back to them what they just said, so as to make sure I understood correctly. Then to ask any further questions that may have occurred to me as I sincerely and acutely listened. Then to graciously ask the final question: “Would you like to hear my thoughts on that?” Because really, many people, quite frankly, don’t give a hoot for what we think or would like to say. It’s best to clear the air on that one right up front, and have the confidence to accept their rejection, so be it.

However, if they surprisingly do want to hear our thoughts, then we may proceed in a calm tone of voice, gently using our hands to articulate our cogent point of view, raise concerns with theirs, and, with aplomb, express our most humble opinions.

All the while this interlocution is taking place, we interject niceties such as “Now, I know this may perhaps conflict with your thoughts on this” (scratch chin for effect), or “Please do forgive me if I have got it wrong, but I’ve thought it out and am sure I do not,” or “Bear with me while I proceed to describe to you the perspective I’ve reached on the matter in my years of reading up on this.” One might want to pause mid-sentence and offer a cherry Lifesaver.

We do a disservice to those entrusted to us if we ignore the teaching of disagreement in the vain and rather jejune hope that “all will be well.” Because in the end, in real time, getting along is only genuine when we are cordial and unthreateningly free to state our case. That is what builds respect and trust among people. Not a yellow smiley face pin or co-exist bumper sticker. What builds for a strong family, neighborhood, school, church, town, city, state, country and world is the acknowledgement that getting along oftentimes means we don’t. Better to learn the stand-up way to disagree than not at all.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue.” Acts 15:1-2

“The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them...” Acts 15:6-7a.

“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. And also some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were conversing with him. Some were saying, ‘What would this idle babbler wish to say?’ Others, ‘He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities,’ –because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.’ (Now all the Athenians and the strangers visiting there used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new).  
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;’” Acts 17:16-25

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘We shall hear you again concerning this.’” Acts 17:32

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