Back when I was hanging out at Reed College, I was pleased to be in an environment where truth mattered more than ego, or rather where people didn’t associate their identity with their ideas. What I mean is, finding truth was more important than being right. And because finding truth was more important than being right, students were able to learn.
At Reed, discussing a philosophical or even scientific idea around a conference table did not look like a debate. Rather, it looked like a group of students attempting to put together a jig-saw puzzle. If a piece didn’t happen to fit, that was par for the course. You simply set it aside and worked together to make progress.
When we begin to associate our ideas with our identities (I am good because I am right) we lose the ability to be objective. And rather than learning to learn, we simply learn to defend.
To be certain, there are basic truths we must defend, but we don’t defend these ideas from our egos. Dr. Henry Cloud says that truth must go hand in hand with grace in order to be effective. There must be truth, but there must also be acceptance, regardless of whether somebody disagrees. This methodology frees the person to make an objective decision. When we become angry or condescending we take the truth and wrap it in a toxic-candy shell and get frustrated when people don’t like it. Truth wrapped in grace is more easily digested.
So my question is, do you take it personally when somebody disagrees with you? Here are some things I try to remember when engaging in a conversation in which there are differing opinions:
1. Truth is not My Truth, it’s Just Truth: My ideas were not really my invention. Even if I was the first person to consider an idea, it’s still something I stumbled upon. I shouldn’t take it personally when somebody doesn’t agree. They aren’t rejecting me, they are rejecting an idea.
2. Methodology is Part of the Message: When I get defensive and then condescending, what I associate my ideas with an offensive subtext, and that association is very strong to the hearer. Imagine having a conversation with somebody who has terrible breath, standing there and smelling their putrid hot air as they talk. It’s the same with your attitude toward somebody when you’re discussing an idea.
3. Without a Loving Heart, I am Like a Clanging Cymbal: If I don’t genuinely care about the people I’m talking to, I’ll be received like a guy standing there clanging cymbals together. The Bible makes a strong connection between a persons heart and their tongue. We tend to think we talk with our tongues alone, but the Bible says we talk with our tongues and our hearts. Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
4. The Other Person has Sovereignty: Even if I think the other person is completely wrong, they have a right to their beliefs. I can simply state what I believe and do so in kindness and that’s really it. If I’m trying to bully somebody into my way of seeing things, I’m not respecting the sovereignty of the person I am talking with.
5. I Could be Wrong: What we most want from the person we are talking to is for them to see things from our perspective and agree. That being said, though, are you willing to see things from their perspective? If not, try listening to their perspective then repeating it back to them. Ask them if you got it right, and if you did, say you will think about it. Then present your idea, too, and ask them if they understand your position. To be honest, they may not be as open as you, but once the conversation is over, I assure you they will have a new respect for you, and believe me, they will consider your ideas more respectfully. And besides, the truth is they could be right.