Prashanth Daniel on How Christians Can be Civil in a Hostile Climate

Western culture has always prided itself on the value of civil discourse and the merits of gracious engagement even with regard to issues that people often did not see eye to eye on. Everyone had an opinion and that was alright, they had a right to have one. For the most part however, everyone generally understood that not all these opinions were right and if we disagreed with it, we could always politely say so and still have an espresso with that person at the local Starbucks later. After all, our relationship was not always at stake even if we disagreed on a particular matter.

But there was a fundamental shift in the cultural discourse which became very obvious in the aftermath of the 2016 US Presidential Elections. Let me clarify that – I’m not saying the election caused it; I’m saying the election exposed a rift that had already been simmering for a while. People who had been friends on social media for years were ‘de-friending’ each other at the slightest provocation. Conversation threads were filled with vitriolic language and name-calling. The overall conversational climate had degenerated to such lows that people were terminating their Facebook accounts just to keep their blood-pressure (and in some cases, sanity) in check!

But how did we get here? Is there any way back to how things were before all this madness began? And how can we as Christians especially, influence the culture in the right direction? While the psychological reasons and socio-cultural issues to assess here are too deep and complex to tackle in this article, I did want to offer three practical measures that we can all take, to at least lower the ‘conversational temperature’ back to a respectable level.

Be Teachable 

At the heart of the problem is our presumption of ‘being right’. As soon as we detect an opposing perspective, we rush to our battle-stations that are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The problem with this knee-jerk reaction is it immediately positions us on ‘the other side’ even before we’ve begun talking. We assume we’re right and the other person is wrong. But how do we know this? We haven’t even taken the time to listen to their entire argument yet. All we did was identify a ‘small deference’ in their view to ours, a little ‘buzz-word’ that is loaded with all kinds of meaning that we’ve attributed to it, maybe even a slight hesitation in their thoughts that somehow managed to communicate to us, “Because they didn’t wholeheartedly approve of my position, they MUST be disagreeing with me and therefore, wrong!” But let’s pause for a second and ask ourselves – is it possible that we may not know everything about the issue? Is it possible that the person we are talking to may have something to say that might actually broaden our perspectives? Is it possible that we may actually learn something from this conversation that we’ve missed before? The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’ to all! If we are to have any sort of conversation with anyone (let alone a difficult conversation with someone we may disagree with), we must go into that conversation with an open mind and a teachable heart. Otherwise the conversation is doomed to fail even before it has begun.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Prashanth Daniel