Opinion opponents are not personal opponents
People these days seem to be holding their differing opinions with more passion and animus than I can remember. Two big areas of differing opinions that seem to be dividing our country and the communities and relationships in it today are: 1) How we should respond to COVID 19; and 2) How we should respond to our country’s history regarding race.
I don’t claim to have the answers to those questions, but I do believe there are ways to avoid some of the bad relational stuff that often spews out when people with strongly held opinions and ideas cross paths.
One of my seminary professors said something years ago, related to adversarial situations, that has stuck with me to this day. He said that when we view our idea opponents as personal opponents, it’s very difficult to go anywhere good. His point was that when we view those who disagree with our ideas and opinions as personal enemies, maintaining relationship and civil discourse becomes very difficult.
My takeaway from my professor’s wisdom was that, when I sense disagreement with someone about something, I need to pay special attention to not viewing the one who is disagreeing with my idea or opinion as my enemy. Instead we both will be better served if we can focus on the idea or opinion about which we disagree and try to understand where each of us is coming from.
A helpful practice to see if we are understanding each other’s differing ideas or opinions is to take turns stating what we understand the other’s idea or opinion to be. When the other agrees that we can state their idea or opinion accurately, and we agree that they can state our idea or opinion accurately, then we both can feel respected and heard. We both now know clearly what it is we disagree about. We can also both feel, that though we differ about the idea or opinion, the other is not our enemy.
An added benefit of adopting this practice will hopefully be the confidence that each of us can now have that the other will not misrepresent our ideas or opinions to others in our circle of relationships when the topics we disagree about come up. Hopefully neither of us will give others the impression that we consider the other as our enemy either.
Respectfully listening to another in this way honors them as fellow human beings created in God’s image. It also creates a context for either of us to change our minds and adopt the other’s idea or opinion, without feeling like we are surrendering to an enemy. We have just been convinced by a friend to change an idea or opinion.
It seems to me that adopting these practices with idea opponents fits well with the attitude towards opponents Paul encouraged in his protégé Timothy when he said to him, “the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses...” (2 Tim 2:24-26 ESV).