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Why CAN'T We All Just Get Along?


I get tense when disagreement enters a conversation. Or an email or a Facebook post. I don't think I'm alone. What's at stake is a rupture in a relationship, and my life is padded with relationships I cherish like a quilt wrapped around me in a chilly room. Disagreement tears the quilt.

I know so many people with whom I disagree on politics and/or religion, and some of them are good, good friends, not passing acquaintances. If I lose them over those two volatile topics, I lose their jokes, that endearing way they frown when they're thinking, access to their recipe for pound cake and the possibility of a ride to the airport. I lose something very precious to me. And I know losing me pains them.

But there's TRUTH at stake here! you may interpolate. But maybe there's more truth in the relationship than there is in your (or my) opinions. I'm old enough now to scan back on decades of my own changed opinions. A friend once asked a room full of people who all had emerged, with varying degrees of hurt, from a church: "How many of you would've died, ten years ago, for something you no longer believe?" Most of us raised our hands.

So I get it--I've been doctrinaire, I've been that jerk in the room who shoehorns my religion into a conversation, I've made sure a person who I know is on the other side of my pet issue heard an inflammatory comment I made to a third party. I cringe, thinking back.

Let me quote my esteemed friend, Susan K. Pierce:

"I suppose when you're faced with an idea you don't like, you've got two choices. You can either make your world smaller, or you can make yourself bigger.

It's pretty easy to make your world smaller. All you have to do is block any thought or person who makes you "feel" uncomfortable. All your basic thoughts are based on emotion, how you "feel" about an idea, and you have every right in the world to declare your brain a "safe zone" and disallow any idea that makes you feel unsettled.

Surveys indicate that most of us limit our reading/watching/listening to those sources we know will bolster what we already think. We are stoked with corroboration of our world-view. Facts. And (speaking politically, for a moment) news sources, right and left, offer up plates of facts, but with a different sauce and a different mixture on the right than what's on the plate on the left. Some ingredients get left out of one, doubled on the other... Sure, there are outright lies on either side, but mostly the issue is what facts are put front-and-center. The truth usually lies in between the extremes and is more complicated than news cycles allow for. Frederick Buechner, teaching Divinity at Harvard, had students who refused to read King Lear because of sexist language. He writes, "...it seemed to me that if your principles keep you from being able to draw on the wisdom of writers of earlier generations who didn't happen to share those principles or even to be aware of them, you may keep your principles intact but at the same time do yourself a tragic disservice."

I'm guilty of picking low-hanging fruit here--most people would save Shakespeare from a book-burning. But they often don't place the same value on the person who stands alive and in front of them with a belief they do not share. Why not relax and allow myself to read the assignment or listen to the person? Am I afraid they'll convert me or give me cooties?

I look at how Jesus handled it. He must have been easy to live with, because the scruffier and more disreputable the people of His day were, the more they seemed to love Him. His only excoriating comments were reserved for those arbiters of All the Right Opinions, the Pharisees, and He went off on them for their heartlessness and hypocrisy, not their wrong doctrine. He met people where they were and loved them exactly as much as they allowed Him to. Truth, that entity we chase with our opinions and our politics, is found in Him, not a party or a denomination. And He constantly surprises us by not being as firmly on our side of our favorite arguments as we might expect.

I have much to gain from staying in relationships, even when I disagree. Bridges built across our differences sustain society and enrich discourse. In areas of disagreement I want to be able to speak without being cut off, hoping my friends would at least agree that our hearts and our opinions are not the same thing. Why not give each other room to grow and learn, and speak our best and most lovingly-perceived Truth into each situation as it arises? If it resonates, it will be absorbed, and if it bounces back, why not step back and give ourselves some breathing room--without stomping off in a huff?



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