America is a vast and culturally blended nation. As such, we face issues that other nations may not experience. Our diversity means that we are going to see the world through different lenses. This is a good thing. A primary concern for one may seem trivial to another, but they are drawing from different experiences. This is why we are blessed to live in a nation where our opinions can be freely expressed without fear of retribution. While we may not fear being dragged into the streets and shot for our beliefs, America has slowly become a nation that discourages disagreement. Ironically, this has actually led to more disagreement and division than ever.
A differing opinion is now regarded as a sign of intolerance rather than a different point of view. American has become increasingly intolerant of intolerance. There was once a time when we could talk about our differences and our differing perspectives. Although you didn’t always agree with their position, they were still respected as a human being, having their own views. Likewise, people didn’t always agree with a political leader’s decisions, but they still afforded them the respect of the office they occupied. When did it all become so personal? When our communication broke down. We stopped listening to each other, focusing solely on convincing others that our opinion was right.
“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions”Proverbs 18:2
When everyone’s first priority is making their opinion heard, who is doing the listening? No one. It leads to a lot of angry rhetoric and screaming, but no real communication. When people are cut-off or given a ready-made response, it feels like the other party isn’t listening. And people become angry when they feel like they are not being heard.
“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.”Proverbs 18:13
You would be surprised to see how quickly anger is subdued by a listening ear and understanding. When people feel heard rather than ignored they feel valued and validated. It also makes them much more willing to actually hear what you have to say. Your opinions don’t have to be the same. When each person feels respected and heard the tension is diffused.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.Proverbs 15:1
The world would be a very different place if, like St. Francis of Assisi, we prayed for the humility to seek first to understand, then to be understood. If we want our conversations to be productive and healing we may have to be the first to demonstrate respect and humility.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry”James 1:19
This is not easy to do in our world today when we are taught that you must earn respect. But we are each God’s creations, made in his image, and should be respected as such. When we demonstrate humility, placing the needs of others first, we create peace.
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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ JesusPhillipians 2:3-5
If we want to be able to agree to disagree again, we will need to show understanding to others. By exhibiting humility and respect, we can learn from others and achieve more than any of us could alone. We don’t have to know everything! Each person has value and a unique perspective. We may even discover that we were wrong.