Let’s say you are reuniting with your family for the holidays for the first time since the start of the pandemic and you find yourself sitting next to a parent who gets on your nerves.
You haven’t had a meaningful conversation in years.
You always seem to disagree.
This is a common situation these days, although that other person may have an office next to yours at the office, or a house across from your home.
How do you talk to these people? Why even bother?
The problem with our witness
You may disagree on current affairs or on something even more basic, such as Bible values. They may be on the other side of culture wars, but don’t view them as enemies. They could be your friends and people you can influence for Christ.
“We are called to love one another, including those who don’t look like us, don’t feel like us, don’t think like us. . . or vote like us, ”Eugene Cho wrote in You will not be a fool: a Christian guide to engage in politics.
The Bible clearly says, almost from the first page, that we are made for relationships. In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good that the man be alone” (NIV). And in Romans 12:18, Paul wrote: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live in peace with all. “
Unfortunately, we tend to associate with people like us.
The Public Religion Research Institute found that our closest relations tend to be with people of the same race or ethnicity. And research by the Barna Group indicates that evangelicals, in particular, believe it would be difficult to talk to people who are different from them, such as Muslims or people who identify as LGBTQ.
But we must avoid what Arthur C. Brooks, author of Love Your Enemies: How Honest People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt, called “hiding in our narrow ideological burrows”.
We cannot spread the gospel this way.
In Bible times, we might have been called to testify about a Samaritan or a tax collector. Today it could be someone with different views on politics or the pandemic.
In these situations, there are three basic principles we can use to build relationships with people other than ourselves.
3 tips for meaningful conversations when you disagree deeply
First, find common ground.
You might find it with relatives by talking about family.
“What we are focusing on is expanding,” wrote John C. Maxwell and Rob Hoskins in Change Your World: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make A Difference. “If we focus on our differences, our differences increase. If we focus on what unites us, then our unity increases.
Too often when we meet people, Brooks wrote in Love your enemies“We quickly move past questions that would help us learn another person’s story and instead immediately seek out the most important points of disagreement and disagreement. As a result, we cripple our ability to locate the commonalities that exist. ”
He added: “The important lesson here is not that our differences are insignificant or better yet have never been discussed. It is that if we want to overcome a culture of contempt, we must turn to what we have in common. before we look at what sets us apart.
When they sat on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the great liberal, and Antonin Scalia, the great conservative, bonded, among other things, through their mutual love for opera. At Scalia’s funeral, Ginsburg said, “He’s been asked before how we can be friends given our disagreements on a lot of things. Judge Scalia replied: “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have very bad ideas.
Note: See the appendix to this article for about 30 questions to help you find common ground with others.
Second, realize that different people express their morals differently.
Kirsten Powers warned in her new book, Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Focused, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Crazy, the dangers of “binary” or “dualistic” thinking.
“Binary thinking makes people all good or all bad, which just isn’t the way things work,” she wrote. “People and situations are complex and nuanced. ”
Brooks wrote that liberals and conservatives look at moral concepts like fairness and compassion differently. For example, Liberals tend to provide basic human needs, such as food and clothing, to the poor, while Conservatives tend to help them help themselves.
“Almost everyone who disagrees with us is not, as is so often thought, immoral; they just express that morality in different ways, ”he wrote.
So don’t think you have all the answers; there is always a chance that you are wrong.
“We don’t know what we don’t know and we won’t know it if we don’t listen,” Tony Beckett said in an interview with the Denison Forum.
Third, humble yourself.
Beckett, an executive at Christian Business Men’s Connection and former Back to the Bible teacher, warned of the dangers of pride.
“When humility is lacking, pride fills the void with a reluctance to even listen to another point of view,” he said. “Pride prolongs and worsens disagreements while humility builds and enhances relationships. It takes humility, a setting aside of assertiveness, to listen well, find common ground, and build on. go from there.
When you invite people to share their stories, you may find that your heart opens in response. You can earn the right to share your story, maybe even the story of Jesus.
“It’s much harder to have contempt for real people with human names, faces and stories,” Brooks wrote. “When we meet as individuals and tell our stories, we overwhelm contempt with something more powerful: love. “
If you want to involve people with different points of view in a meaningful way, Brooks advised, “Don’t attack or insult. Don’t even try to win. . . . Almost no one is ever insulted for getting a deal.
Instead, be kind, even if that’s not how you feel, because feelings follow actions.
“It starts with a commitment to act the way you want to, not how you feel at any given time,” Brooks wrote.
Model the biblical values in your own life and people will notice it.
Show people that you care and they’ll start to trust you.
You may never agree on politics or the pandemic, but you might be surprised at how much you have in common.
30 questions to help you find common ground
When looking for common ground with others, keep these two basic thoughts in mind:
- Show you care.
- Be ready to help.
For many people, just being listened to is enough to open them up to deeper conversations. However, we are called as Christians to literally go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41).
When an opportunity to help presents itself as a result of your careful listening, do not hesitate to help. Showing kindness through service opens wide the doors of opportunity: to bear witness, to be a friend, to have difficult conversations.
We’ve categorized these questions into three familiarity categories, ranging from people you know well to people you barely know. You can probably ask any question below to people you know well, but we don’t recommend asking Category 1 questions to people in Category 3.
May these questions help you discover new knowledge about the people around you so that deeper and more difficult conversations can take place in the future.
With people you know well (for example, family members or close friends)
- Who in our family had the most impact on you?
- What’s your favorite vacation memory?
- What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you lately?
- What do you think I should know about you that would help me get to know you better?
- What are your passions?
- What are you excited about coming into your life? Are you planning trips or vacations?
- What is your favorite childhood memory?
- What was your favorite childhood activity?
- What was your favorite adventure we’ve had together?
- What hidden talents do you have?
With people you see often (for example, colleagues)
- How were you in high school?
- What is your favorite activity outside of work?
- What is your dream vacation?
- Would you like to tell me a story about your childhood that is still close to your heart?
- Where did you grow up
- How did you find yourself (city where you live, current profession, church, etc.)?
- What is your favorite homemade dish?
- If you could play a sport professionally, what would it be?
- Which book (or film, play, etc.) has marked your life the most?
- Which member of your family are you closest to? Why?
With people you barely know (e.g. acquaintances)
- What is your favorite (sports team, movie, book, game, etc.)?
- What is your dream vacation?
- What do you do for a living? Is that what you want to keep doing?
- Can you tell me about your family?
- Are you from this region?
- What do you like to do for fun in this area?
- what is your favorite restaurant?
- Who has the most impact on your life?
- What made you smile the most recently?
- How would your friends describe you? Would you accept?