These days it seems that the world is full of arguments. The political arena is probably the loudest right now, but it’s not the only one. There seems to be something in the air that is encouraging people to get in each other’s faces and scream.
Disagreement is part of life. But there are ways to disagree. First, pick your fights. Not just what you choose to fight about, but when and where you choose to argue. One of the most common recommendations in marital counseling is don’t argue when you’re tired or you’ve drunk too much. Both times you don’t have much control over what comes out of your mouth. If you’re going to argue with someone, pick a time that is private, a place that is private, and make sure it’s an issue that is worth the effort.
I would also suggest that those same rules apply to social media. You don’t have to fire back at every post you don’t like. Choose your battles wisely.
Remember also you can respect someone with whom you completely disagree. I remember the late Barry Goldwater, senator from Arizona, commenting on politics in the 1970’s. He was dismayed at how nasty people were to each other. He said, “In the old days, we would argue in public, and call each other names, but when we got behind closed doors, we were friends, and we would work hard at compromise.” Those are two words you don’t hear much about in today’s politics; friendship and compromise.
Second, choose your words. It is possible to have different viewpoints and not be insulting. Telling someone you don’t agree with their reasoning is different than saying you think they’re an ignorant baboon. The words you use make a difference.
And if we must argue, let it be about worthwhile things. Remember that the word “argue” also means “to reason, to make clear, to give evidence of, to indicate.” Those are good things to do whenever we’re engaged in talk with someone.
The answer to gaps between people is not to stop talking. Often the answer is precisely to talk—to communicate, to reason, to make clear, to indicate (that is, to give direction and guidance).
Also, remember to listen as well as talk. You may actually learn something from that person you are disagreeing with.
Last, a little humility goes a long way. Much of our arguing is pursued to prove ourselves “winners” and those we disagree with “losers.” What could be a more worthless enterprise? In most kinds of arguments, we run the risk of hurting another person’s feelings. All of us need to be on our guard about hurting other people’s feelings with our words.
You see, when we argue, we become so centered on our ego, so intent upon winning a battle of words, that we can end up doing a lot of damage. How many words would most of us do anything to take back – in the heat of an argument?
The religious life is not a life without disagreements. We all have points of view that we feel strongly about. And they may differ from those closest to us. How will we respond?
I hope we will choose our battles, choose our words, and remember to be humble. That way we may have more understanding in our lives, and less conflict.
Rev. Nancy Mead is the pastor of the First United Methodist Church.