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6 Ways to Have a Conviction (without Being a Jerk)

As I write this, my government’s been out of commission for 13 days. Locked in an epic standoff, the two polarized parties running Washington would rather run us into the rocks than find a middle ground.

One only need visit Twitter, Facebook, or even their local church to see that the poisonous polarization in Washington is being played out regularly in every American city. Somehow we’ve come to a place where every political, theological, or ideological discussion becomes a zero-sum game—I can’t win unless you lose.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

While it’s important to have convictions, they don’t have to be held in a way that undermines public dialog and civility.

Here are some tips to help you hold tight to your principles without being an insufferable jerk.

1. Value people over opinions

Do people matter to you? Which people? If you can only be courteous to people who agree with you, they might not be the problem.

My Facebook news feed is often a sickening cavalcade of demeaning commentaries and memes.  Instead of interesting and helpful dialog about where people differ, we resort to demonizing those we disagree with.

Believe it or not, mature people can hold strong opinions without devaluing those who disagree.

2. Don’t generalize and stereotype

One of the interesting things about humans is their ability to pick and choose ideas from life’s ideological buffet. Not every Democrat is pro-choice, and not every Republican supports the death penalty. I don’t know many people who tow the complete party line when it comes to political or theological principles.

People are complex, and you miss a lot when you write them off based on generalizations.

3. Be willing to be wrong

When you add up all of your political, sociological, and theological opinions, how right do you think you are? 50%? 75% 85%?

Even if you’re arrogant enough to believe you’re 90% right about everything, which 10% is wrong? I would hope that, if you could answer that question, you’d stop believing it.

The truth is: we don’t know where we’re wrong. This fact alone should transform our dialog.

There are many people who disagree with you who are both smarter and more educated than you are. This doesn’t need to change your opinion (smart people can be wrong, too.), but it should give you pause.

Between you and me, I don’t trust anyone who has all the same convictions at 50 that they had at 25.

4. Don’t engage in scorn as entertainment

There’s a whole cottage industry of radio, media, and pastoral celebrities who regularly and cynically employ derision as part of their strategy.

Along with their philosophies, the millions who listen and follow these talking heads adopt their destructive method of dehumanizing others.

If the person informing you is mean, it’s best to get your information somewhere else.

5. Look for common ground

It’s more fun to discover where you and someone else agree than it is to find fault with every opinion. You should try it.

Nothing gets more tiresome than dealing with someone who is always weighing every interaction for orthodoxy and (what they consider) an acceptable opinion.

I believe that you can find common ground with anyone. And the more you focus on the positives, the more you can build a relationship that makes your other opinions influential, too.

Seriously, give it a try.

6. Give people the benefit of the doubt

I read a pro-Calvinist blog a while back that summed up their anti-Arminian argument with, “We just value the Bible more than they do.”

This strawman argument is ridiculous, but you see it everywhere. There’s nothing dumber than distorting, exaggerating or misrepresenting someone’s position in order to discount it outright.

Take people at face value, and assume they have the same good intentions that you do.

Someone needs to turn this country’s venomous dialog around. It’s not going to happen from the top down—we need to take responsibility for it. What do you say? Want to start engaging in meaningful dialog for a change?

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bill #

    First time to have read your post thanks to Christian Piatt.

    I appreciated what you wrote. It is something I try to practice. Nonetheless, I need a reminder such as this article of how to interact with people in God’s Spirit..

    October 14, 2013
  2. Jerom #

    Reblogged this on Against Anti-Abortion Bullies (Surry Hills).

    October 14, 2013
  3. Such good advice, Lori. Thanks, once again, for saying what we need to hear. It’s funny, but just the other day I was thinking what you said: that I’m sure I’m wrong about some things, but I don’t know which things they are! 😉 Is that kind of being possibly wrong about everything??

    October 14, 2013
    • Thanks . . . who’s Lori?

      October 14, 2013
      • Jayson, I’m sorry. Lori Roeleveld re-posted this on her blog and I didn’t look closely enough to notice she hadn’t written it. Very bad of me!! I totally like what you said. We need to speak truth in love. With respect and gentleness. It’s only right, and in the long run, we will be more persuasive that way.

        October 14, 2013
  4. I totally agree Jayson, and yet it also concerns me that there are so many people willing to attach themselves to totally irrational views and conspiracy theories these days. For example, when I hear people tell me that having our country default, is not necessarily a bad thing, I don’t know what to say. When I hear a Christian brother tell me that it’s important for Americans to own firearms, so that we can prevent the tyranny of our own government, it throws me back. (Who gets to decide what is “tyranny” and did I just hear a Christian brother advocate the armed overthrowing of our government, given the right conditions?) When I hear Christian preachers share that conflict in the middle east is not necessarily a bad thing, because now we’re closer to the end times and Jesus coming back, I’m speechless.

    For the most part, I don’t argue with these folks. All I can do is nod my head and say, “I guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree.” When I say that I’m speechless, this is no lie.

    I guess all of this begs the questions. What is “it” that causes people to take totally off the wall positions on issues? Where do these things come from? From my own perspective, this is helpful question to ask, and it keeps me a little more sane. Just a little.

    October 14, 2013
    • I totally agree Darren. In fact, those examples are perfect. I have to constantly remind myself that I can either invest in the relationship and have the possibility of having deeper, thoughtful conversations, or I can have shallow debates. Too often, I have chosen the latter.

      October 14, 2013
    • MrPete #

      Darren, part of what is happening is that while all intelligent people assume that we have evaluated the facts and come to a rational perspective, in reality all of us have a limited ability to both gather and process the facts. And simply by living in a certain part of the country, or having gone to a certain school, we could easily have either learned or missed some very pertinent facts that have shaped our perspective.

      For example, in the examples you gave, we don’t know each other so I have no idea what thoughts might be a bit “stretching” for you… but here are some facts that not many people consider:
      * Default was never really an option, is not necessary, and in fact is prohibited by law. The US services its debts by paying less than $30B a month, a tiny fraction of the funds that come in. Thus, a very logical conclusion would be that anyone who even brought up the topic was pulling your leg.
      * The US was founded by a community — mostly Christian — that advocated and acted on taking up arms against their (British) government. Thus, to live in the US is to recognize that rational Christians absolutely have come to the conclusion that armed insurrection is sometimes the Godly choice. (BTW, visit the Rotunda of the US Capitol sometime… all of the eight huge paintings depict vital SPIRITUAL events in the founding of our nation.)
      * Your last one… not sure what I can say there that could be helpful… perhaps this: I was stunned when I expressed empathy to a leader in that part of the world, sharing my concern for their suffering. He looked at me quizzically, then asked: “why such concern? One of the most significant ways the Gospel was spread in Bible times was through people who were imprisoned and never got out. Choosing Christ is a life-and-death decision for us. Isn’t it the same for you?”

      Anyway, sorry it took so many words to illustrate this. I find it very helpful to recognize that the person I am interacting with just might be at least as intelligent and well-read as me, and might think that MY perspective is totally off the wall.

      Instead of simply tuning them out or agreeing-to-disagree, sometime you might try wiping the stunned look off of your face, and gently/humbly asking something like: “That’s an interesting way of expressing it. What led you to that conclusion? Do you have any references or resources I could use to learn more?”

      October 21, 2013
      • I appreciate the thoughtfulness of your response. Too often, the conversation around many issues becomes unpleasant. As followers of Jesus I think we should do better. I would add that “agreeing to disagree” is sometimes the best that we can do. We’ve listened to each other and we just disagree. There is no shame in it. Disagreement is fine and okay. The fact that we disagree doesn’t make either you or me a bad person, or even a bad Christian. Rather, my hope is that if we are fellow followers of Jesus, that we could rejoice in what we have in common.

        I’d also agree that we all have blind spots and that while we sometimes want to believe that life is black and white, things are rarely that clear. as you say, we’re all operating with limited knowledge. As the Apostle Paul shared, we see through a glass darkly.

        We could probably have a lengthy discussion on all of the items raised. I’ll focus on one of them.

        With regards to the gun control issue, rather than look to the American Revolution as our model, I think as Christians we should look to Jesus, and I just don’t see a right to insurrection in the words of Jesus. I see “turn the other cheek, ” and “love your enemies”, but I don’t see insurrection (with the possible exception of opposing a Stalin or Hitler, or trying to prevent genocide). I think the natural question to ask with regards to resisting tyranny, is “what is tyranny?” and who gets to decide “what is tyranny?” Does the Tea Party get to decide? Does Bill Maher get to decide? Does Fox or Rachel Maddow get to decide? Do you or I get to decide? Personally, I think even introducing the potential of armed insurrection, or taking arms against our government brings an unhelpful and shrill tone to the discussion.

        When it comes to difficult and controversial topics, I always find it helpful for me to ask, “What are the stakes?” Who are the people effected by this? Too often, I’ve come to realize that my positions are based on hypotheticals, theory, or some abstract principle. I might state the conservative or liberal principal, but how will this effect real people?

        My general view is that as followers of Jesus, we should always error on the side of love, compassion and protecting the weak. Sometimes, this may make me a “soft touch”, a “bleeding heart” or overly permissive in the eyes of some. I’m fine with this criticism.

        In any case, this is an overly long response, in response to your overly long response. 🙂 Blessings to you Pete. and would love to carry on the conversation elsewhere.

        October 22, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 6 Ways to Have a Conviction (without Being a Jerk) - Josh Brahm
  2. Wanderings of the Week 10/20/13 | My Life on the Balance Beam

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