I Respectfully Disagree

Article by Michael Zagar

Why is it that we have this need to not only share life’s experiences together, but to completely agree on all things?

My first thought was that, somehow along the way, we’ve lost the ability to respectfully disagree.  Here in Wisconsin, we got to see that play out firsthand over the course of the last five years, where one group attempted to recall our state’s governor over policies with which they disagreed, while their opponents made public the signature of those supporting the recall.  Oftentimes, individual family members were on opposite sides of the argument.  How awkward the holidays must have been around the state that year!

The discussions got seriously heated, even among people who were not involved firsthand with the new legislation.  A lot of harsh words were thrown back and forth—not only between elected officials, but among regular people.  Some of them even left jobs they had held for years.  Not because the job itself had changed, but because the tone among people had become downright nasty in some cases.

What happened?

Why the harsh words and nasty tone?

Like I said, I think that we’ve somehow lost the ability to respectfully disagree.  Sure, both sides of the discussion here disagreed, but there was no respectful treatment between these groups.  We see it in the news all the time.  And by nature of seeing it over and over again, I believe we begin to act out the same behavior.  But I don’t think that’s the whole answer.

What if?

We see this in the workplace, in marriages, and in the church in almost exactly the same manner.  I wonder if there’s something more to it than just mimicking observed disrespect?

What if our “convictions” that cause these sorts of disputes aren’t as strong as we think they are?  What if the “belief” we cling so tightly to is on fairly weak footing in our own hearts and minds?  What if, God forbid, we took the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective—the “other side’s” perspective?  Would our beliefs and convictions continue to be something strong enough to stand on, or are there holes in it?What-if-284x336

I’m of the opinion that much of our beliefs and convictions are generally based on either our own experience or the secondhand experiences of close family and friends.  From those experiences, we form a set of beliefs that apply to and work in those experiences.  But the diversity of life experience is vast and our personal experiences oftentimes do not apply or work within the experience of another.  Oh sure, there will be those with similar life experiences and belief systems we can readily agree with.  But what about the all the others who differ from us?  Are their experiences and convictions not worth considering?

I had visited a place a few years ago where my experience did not match my set of beliefs.  I was in a situation that, by nature of my belief system, should not have been successful, but ironically it was.  Furthermore, I realized that I had also been in situations where I should see success based on my belief structure, yet had not.  It was one of those life changing eureka moments when you realize that there’s something bigger going on.  Maybe my perspective, my set of beliefs, my way of seeing doesn’t work in every situation?  Perhaps this is the same for all of us, no matter what we believe?  And perhaps this is why we disagree so strongly with one another—maybe what they believe works sometimes, too?

I’m changing and I like it!

If we brought nothing into this life, and we will take nothing out, then our experiences and the beliefs formed out of those experiences is all that we truly possess.  If this is true, then finding out that those beliefs are incomplete in some situations, completely lacking and very personal, can be unnerving to say the least.  Once our differences become personal, a strong defense will be required for protection of those beliefs and the fighting to follow is inevitable.

Here in Wisconsin, the reality is that the governor doesn’t have all the answers.  And neither do his opponents.  If both sides would work together rather than each attacking and reinforcing their defenses, things would have been very different.

I have friends and family with whom I do not share the same perspective.  We all do, don’t we?  Funny thing—I’m allowing my recent experience to re-shape my views on a great many things that have previously been shaped by my limited experience.  Epiphany moment right now—has the development and evolution of my beliefs and convictions stopped at the point of my localized experience, thereby not allowing other unique experiences to change my perspective?  Sounds remarkably like what we all too often do in the church, doesn’t it?  We formulate, or are specifically taught a very rigid set of ideas and all of life needs to be contorted to fit into that structure.  Then, God forbid, we learn something new or are challenged in some way by another, we go into meltdown defense mode to protect those beliefs.  We can’t possibly sit by those “heretics” or even be in the same church as them!

It sounds crazy when you look at it this way, doesn’t it?

But it happens…

All… the… time… it happens!

When I started allowing my recent experiences to re-shape a more compassionate understanding, it allowed me to ask a great number of questions.  These questions challenged me in a good way, and the result has been quite liberating.

I don’t have all the answers, and neither do you.  My belief set is based on a limited life experience that only I hold.  But by listening to and stepping into the experiences of others, I’ve been able to renew my perspective.  By asking questions when things just don’t seem to add up, I’ve been blessed to see even my own faith in a new and fresh way.

We all change as we travel thru life, don’t we?  Let’s face it, those of us in our forties don’t look much like we did twenty years ago!  So, if change is a sign of life physically, why shouldn’t it also be with regard to our internal thoughts, ideas, and concepts?

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