original image from www.brooksbell.com
In my last article, I spent a lot of time unpacking the idea of intellectual honestly and humility. Actually, I have spent a lot of time in the past few years speaking on the idea of healthy and helpful dialogue and in most of my posts I push towards the ideas of listening, respect, and the art of understanding. I believe this is for a good reason. For the most part, people are not lacking in the ability to have an opinion and when we voice that opinion, it can easily become loud and proud (in a manner of speaking). But, it does make me wonder if sometimes I come off as saying that having an opinion or speaking up is a bad thing. So, in a way, this article is a kind of response to myself, a rebuttal, or better, a balancing of the extremes (to counter balance and keep us in tension). In a lot of ways, these two articles are two sides of the same coin. I do mention in most of my article that we should have confidence in our views and be able to fight for those conviction, but I want to expand on that a little more.
What is it about a disagreement that can put people on the defence so easily, or worse, causes an offence? No matter the topic, there can be this undertone of sensitivity when someone chooses to push back towards what we hold as a deeply held belief. It is almost as though our opinions and beliefs become an extension of our actual persona and having them challenged makes us feel as though we are being attacked. Are we are unable to divide the fact that the person is challenging our stance on a topic and not us personally? Or could it be, we are so scared to be wrong that a challenge will show us that we have flaws, that we can sometimes be wrong, or worse, it crumbles the comfort and stability of the certainty of our beliefs? There is something to be said in thinking that we have everything arranged perfectly and things make sense.
But, I wonder if there is a greater thing at work, under the surface. Flip to the other side and it is almost as though unity and agreement is the ultimate and possibly the only goal. It would even seem that the Apostle Paul would challenge us towards this end when he wrote to the Corinthians saying, "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought." (1 Corinthians 1:10).
I mean, why wouldn't we not want this? Should we not make every effort to live in harmony with each other? Unity and harmony is definitely a honourable thing to pursue after and in a world full of conflict, hatred and disagreement, it is no wonder this thinking now permeates our ideas, culture and relationships. Though the sentiment of unity is a great one, we should never confuse unity and uniformity as the same thing.
Let me drive this home with this story. I asked the question to a room full of 100+ students: What is tolerance? And the answer was telling. It was almost an agreed consensus that tolerance meant that we agree with each other. With unity being such a high value in this crowd of students, it was almost as though it meant we needed to be uniform in our understanding of the world. That to tolerate someone's belief, we need to agree with it, or at least we are unable to have a differing opinion. It is almost like disagreement is the carnal sin of this generation. But as I explained to this group, tolerance actually demands we disagree. If we didn't disagree with their idea, we didn't need tolerance because we agree. To the contrary, tolerance is being able to give freedom to disagree while also respecting the person and their opinion as their own. It is almost as though a culture of uniformity was being formed.
This culture of uniformity can be a very dangerous one. Instead of holding everyone as equal and free, it has the potential to create systems of division towards those who believe differently than us and could quench the actual freedom it wishes to protect. It really beacons the question: if everyone should be in utter agreement, who's understanding of truth should we all be in agreement with? Now of course, not everyone of this generation holds to this definition of tolerance, but the story above still makes the point about the fear of holding a belief contrary to popular opinion. People can become scared to share their thoughts, ideas and opinions, for fear of persecution for those thoughts or the fear to offend someone else who holds a differing perspective to our own. Should we be so guarded and sensitive in hearing criticism? Should it be so hard to share ones opinion? What ever happened to being able to agree to disagree? Though we should make every effort to dialogue with humility and respect for others, the ultimate responsibility of how a person reacts (being offended or not) is up to the listener, not the speaker. We cannot control someone else's response, only our own response to criticism and how we deliver our thoughts and opinions. This is about mutual respect and openness for dialogue, is it not?
In other instances, this culture of uniformity is what can drive people to surround themselves with people who think the same way as them, dress the same way, speak the same language, vote accordingly to their party line and hold the same values... no mater what. It is safer and easier to stay in a conversation where people will have your back, echo your ideas and say amen! But in this reality, there is little chance for true challenging, or worse, can stifle new/different ideas to our own. It is here that tribes are created, and we war against those tribes that don't look like our own. So, when we interact with someone of another tribe, and propose something that exists outside their tribes agreed framework, we can be seen as dissenting of truth, a bigot or worse, hate filled. It is no wonder the term heretic gets thrown around with no real regard.
Back to the passage quoted above, when Paul speaks of agreement, it is in being unified in Christ instead of arguing over minor details of their favourite teachers: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). For Paul, it was about being united in the highest things (in Christ) and liberty in diversity. As the old saying goes: "On essential things, unity. On doubtful things, liberty. In all things, charity". Unity is never about utter agreement, but unity despite our disagreements:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. //PHilippians 2:1-4
Unity is ultimately about love, selflessness, respect and humility. When utter agreement becomes the dominant perspective of dialogue, it can not only close down healthy and helpful dialogue, but can actually perpetuates the hate that it is trying to avoid. So, this beckons the question: can we both have an opinion that differs from someone else or another tribe and both coexist and even dialogue between each other? If you have been reading for any amount of time at all, you will know my answer is an adamant YES! I would argue that there is a better way.
What if there was an option for the ability for free open speech that both allows for disagreement and respect? To have dialogue and conversation between people who see things differently would assume that we disagree and have opposing opinions. We should never be scared of this reality, and to voice ones opinion, and this should never be received with hostility, simply because it sees things differently or challenges our ideas. I would give this challenge: both having an opinion and allowing others to have opposing opinions is possible and that we can both dialogue but live in harmony with each other. You are allowed to have a opinion and it is very possible the world may need that opinion. Let iron sharpen iron my friend and let us strive towards healthy and helpful dialogue in a world full of conflict and disagreement.
Drake De Long-Farmer
Husband, Father, Pastor, Speaker
I am a passionate Frenchman who loves to see people thrive and come alive--to BELONG, wrestle with what they BELIEVEand BECOME the masterpiece God has destined them to be. I am a life learner and love being challenged to grow further. One of my favourite things to do is spend a good amount of time at a good café or coffee shop with a good book or challenging conversation. To be able to share in someone else's journey and experience the story that journey tells is always a pleasure and an honour. I currently serve as the Editor-In-Chief of boldcupofcoffee.com and as the Executive Pastor at Gateway Alliance Church, building & leading our various teams, speaking in various capacities.
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