I am saddened and dismayed by the political vitriol and discord that has gone on in my country, and frankly, around the world as well. Unfortunately, I have taken part in heated and aggressive arguing before. It was about twenty years ago in an online forum. I may have considered myself a believer in Christ, but I doubt I really was at the time. Worse yet, one of my hateful messages became a featured message on that particular website! I regret writing that message to this day, and hope it is not still up there. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I know it didn’t build up or respect anyone at all. Thankfully, God did not leave me hate-filled and aggressive like I was before, and He has taught me, through many respectable and grace-filled Christians, how to speak my mind more gracefully. Here is what I learned, and continue to learn:
- When confronted with a person or person with an opposing view, make sure you understand what they are actually saying, and define terminology. —I was in an online discussion on a social media platform that got heated because both sides seemed to not understand what the other person’s view actually was. That’s why I asked them to define terms. For instance, I’ve seen and heard people arguing against the stay at home order in their state. Other people accused them of being “selfish” because they are arguing against it. In order for either party to share their beliefs with grace, they need to try to understand where the party with the opposing belief is coming from. The party that called the people protesting or arguing about the stay at home order “selfish” could instead see what part of the stay at home order they are against. The people protesting may not be against all stay at home orders, but just the more restrictive parts of it. The people who are for the stay at home orders may just come out of a concern and care for others’ well -are and safety and are not intending to be “tyrannical,” as those protesting the orders may think. Also, it would be useful for both parties to define clearly and precisely the term “stay at home order.” What would it include? What would it not include?
- Focus on what you agree on, not on what divides you.—In my example about the stay at home order, it may be useful to focus more on what unites you, not only what you disagree about. Both parties in arguing about the stay at home order issue seem to come out of a concern for what they feel is the greater good. The party that supports people staying at home until COVID-19 passes wants people to stay safe and not potentially spread the virus, especially to the most vulnerable in society. The party that supports lifting some restrictions on the stay at home order in their state may want the economy to recover so that less people would be out of work and have income to buy food and other necessities.
- Never name-call or denigrate the other side.–What I see in many bitter and contemptible debates is that people tend to demonize and denigrate the opposing side. They do not see the opposing side as humans with goals and dreams like us, but instead as a demon or even the devil himself! If we want to speak our mind with grace, we can never demonize the other side. We must remember that no matter what side a person is on, they are humans, created in God’s image, like we are. They have hopes, dreams, and families, like we do. If someone, especially in an online forum, starts resorting to name-calling or otherwise denigrating you, you can shut down the conversation by not responding to their comments and getting out of the forum. This will allow both parties to cool down, or, at least stop the verbal escalation from getting worse. Sometimes, I even refrain from sharing my beliefs, not so much because I’m afraid to, but because I do not want to get into a name-calling, hateful debate with others.
I find that when we try to understand where our opponent is coming from, when I focus on where I agree with my opponent instead of only what divides us, and when I treat my opponent with respect and grace, that we will understand and love each other better. This pandemic alone won’t unite people, but a heart that respects and gives grace to even our opponents, can and will. Let’s feel free to share our beliefs, but let’s do so with a humble and a gracious attitude.