Learning How To Disagree

Opinions. We all got them. We all think ours are correct, and want others to agree. In fact, I think I could explain it better in a poem.

Opinions, opinions, everywhere.
You have an opinion, but I don’t care.
I’m much too smart to listen to you.
Before you speak, this conversation is through.
I know that you’re wrong right from the start.
I don’t want to hear it, not even one part.
Don’t waste your breath or my precious time,
because the only opinion that I’ll hear is mine.

I’m no Longfellow, but hopefully you get the idea. We have reached a staggering level of dismissiveness when it comes to discussions between people with different perspectives. No longer can we sit down, listen to an idea, weigh the logic of their argument, and then offer a rebuttal based on it. No, we plug our ears, and when it is our turn, we simply go off on our own personal diatribe of opinions, never once interacting with the other’s argument.

This form of “dialogue” is exacerbated on social media. For some reason, likely the perceived anonymity, people feel brave sitting behind a keyboard. They no longer have the restraints of polite society, nor, it sometimes seems, the expectations of logical thought. What passes for discussion, political, religious, or otherwise, is often nothing more than an utter display of thoughtless buffoonery. (I say that with love.) However, I have not given up on social media as a place where ideas can be discussed, debated, and even disagreed upon with civility. Today, I offer a few helpful tips on how to disagree well.

1) Listen Well
This may seem obvious, but we must listen to the people with whom we disagree before giving a response. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13) Too often people talk past one another because they refuse to listen to the other position. A good discussion can only be had when opposing sides listen to one other, trying to grasp the point of the argument.

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) Again, constructive conversation can be had between people with opposing ideas, but we must be prepared to listen and think before we respond, refraining from fits of anger that only cloud our judgment.

2) Argue Well
Once you listen to the opposing view, now you are ready to offer your rebuttal. How? By ignoring everything the person presented and responding, “You’re stupid. Educate yourself, you kool-aid drinker”? No, this never progresses the discussion in any meaningful fashion. Yet, this type of “witty” response seems to predominate on social media. This is NOT good argumentation.

Rather, we should take two basic steps: 1) Engage with the content of the individual’s position, and 2) Offer your opinion with supporting evidence. Sounds simple but this is rarely achieved online.

We need to be able to truly understand the other person’s position so that we know why we disagree. In fact, to truly give a good argument, you should be able to state the opposing position in such a way that the other side can say, “Yes, that is what I believe.” Instead, people generally give a vague, inaccurate picture of the opposing view and then argue against that. This is called the strawman fallacy and is a dishonest way to argue. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

Instead, know the opposing view well by listening well, and then interact with the actual argument. For instance, you could say, “You stated here (fill in the blank), and I recognize that by this you mean (fill in the blank). However, I disagree with your assumption here (fill in the blank).” This is the beginning of a constructive conversation with someone you disagree with.

3) Grow Well
However, simply expressing your disagreement is not enough. In order for both parties to grow in their understanding of one another, you must now offer your opinion on the topic, supporting your views with evidence. This means, instead of only saying what you believe, let the other person know why you believe in that way. Do you have facts that support your thinking? Can you quote others who have articulated your position in the past? This was the practice of the Apostle Paul as he traveled from town to town. “Paul went in, as was his custom… reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” (Acts 17:2)

Building a case for your position with corroborating information allows your ideas to be understood more clearly and helps the other person know why you believe as you do. This not only leads to better thinking, but also better rapport with those who remain contrary to your ideas. Yes, they may still disagree, but are more likely to remain friendly in future conversations.

So please, next time you are perusing your social media site of choice, or even having a face-to-face conversation, and notice something you disagree with, do not say, “You’re wrong, you big dummy.” Don’t allow the instantaneousness of clicking “reply” move you past the stage of thinking. We can disagree on things. That is the great blessing of living in this country. Free thought is not only allowed, but is greatly encouraged. Yet, free thought still requires “thought.” Let us disagree, but let us disagree well.

By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ

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