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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Judge Me: We Can Still Be Coffee Buddies

To follow up on the previous post, four simple ways to make sure you engage other viewpoints honestly and respectfully.

  1. Do it.  There’s no point believing something that can’t stand up to a challenge.  Engaging opposing viewpoints will either convince me for the other side (I could actually be wrong!), deepen my own beliefs by causing me to think critically about them, or at least educate me on what other people really think.  Win-Win-Win.
  2. Do it faithfully.  Represent your beliefs honestly.  Being gracious doesn’t necessitate rewriting parts that could offend.  Christians struggle with this when it comes to tough questions like “do you think I’m going to hell?”  Don’t be confrontational, but don’t try to protect God from who he is and what he’s said.  You’ll be introducing people to a watered down version of the real thing, and who needs that?
  3. Do it with integrity.  No strawmanning.  I made that up, but you know what a straw man is: you represent the other side as a weak caricature that you can beat down.  Politicians do this a lot; they describe the opposing viewpoint in such a way that only a moron could subscribe to it, and their crowd goes wild.  But smart and erudite people fall on all points along the spectrum, so always assume that your opponent is not an idiot  Represent his position in the best possible light and you’ll avoid alienating your audience.
  4. Learn to live with tension.  There are some times when we’ll just disagree, and on important subjects.  If we want to keep up meaningful dialogue without losing the core of who we are and what we think, there will be tension.  I was once part of a long, friendly email debate between Catholic and Protestant Christians.  We all learned a lot about what was similar and what differed, but in the end there were a few points on which we would never quite see eye to eye.  Which is why we have different sects and parties and faiths at all.  Sensing where the line is, where learning becomes bullying, and pulling back before you reach it, is critical.  If harmony is where all is blithely ignorant and clash is where the fists fly, seek dissonance.  Slightly off but in a way that adds interest.  
  5. When in real danger, retreat to common ground.  Coffee, beer, baseball, knitting.  Now go forth and have a diverse circle of friends!

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