We’ve all had the crazy aunt who is very boisterous about her opinions, political and otherwise. Although you love her dearly, just the thought of going for a visit make you break out in hives. You wonder how you might navigate around certain topics. Or perhaps your children are in for a visit and it seems they have decided to take the opposite position than you on every issue possible. It’s as if they’ve done it on purpose!
It seems as though our world is more opinionated and vocal than ever before. There are a lot of benefits to this, because more voices are being heard. Hopefully, as a result, wiser choices can be made. But it can make family reunions and relationships in general very uncomfortable. What might be some keys to keeping relationships strong and loving even when there are strong differences of opinion?
First, determine how important it is to be heard. For example, if you are going to see Aunt Dotty for your annual family picnic, it may not be necessary to voice your position on politics, religion, or anything else controversial. As far as matters of religion are concerned, Scripture often speaks of letting our actions speak before our words. Choosing to stay silent might accomplish more than your lecture on your viewpoint on theology. Matthew 5:16 suggests, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” With those family members and friends who are only seen occasionally, it might be wise to consider the purpose of communicating the opinion in question. Another scripture that might be good to depend upon can be found in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
However, there are other relationships when open and honest communication is healthy and not detrimental to growth. Perhaps you strongly disagree with a parent or spouse about a political candidate or major doctrinal position. There seems to be two kinds of people in this world: those who openly blurt out their opinions and often assume the listener has the same viewpoint, and those who are intimidated by the thought of expressing their ideas. It can be a very vulnerable and intimate decision to share your thoughts with a loved one.
When dealing with the first type of person, they often don’t realize that you might have a different viewpoint. If this is the case, rather than getting into a heated discussion, or perhaps worse yet, bottling up your feelings, it would be best to remind the person that good men and women disagree about many things, and that they just might be talking to one of them. Never disrespect the other person’s right to a different opinion than yours. If you offer them the latitude to think differently, it sets an example for them to do the same for you. Trying to keep your passion for the subject out of the discussion can be one of the most difficult challenges of a disagreement. All of us have issues that we believe in passionately, and expressing our stand in that way could hurt our cause more than help it. If you feel that you are unable to discuss the situation without emotions being raised, consider writing a loving and respectful note. Let them know how it makes you feel when they berate your position. Talk more about how this is affecting your relationship than trying to convince them to change their mind.
Finally, sometimes the only way through a strong disagreement, is to agree to disagree. If you are aware that positions are polar opposite to one another, then you may have to let the argument rest. In fact, you may even choose to set the standard of a boundary for that subject. After each person has had ample time to communicate each side, the wisest thing one might be able to do is to no longer discuss it. Change the subject to something personal--ask about their work, or friends, or vacation. You can be personally invested even if you don't agree on big issues.
There is a wonderful story in Christian history that exemplifies the right posture for disagreeing. John Wesley and George Whitefield were two of the great evangelists of their time. However, they had some doctrinal differences, and their followers began to passionately argue with one another about who was in the right. Finally, one of Whitefield’s followers asked one day, “Will John Wesley be in heaven?” His thought was that someone as in error as he felt Wesley to be must not be able to enter God’s kingdom. Whitfield’s response was beyond wise. He answered, ‘No, we probably will not see John Wesley in heaven. He will be so high up near Christ’s throne, so close to the Lord, that we will not be able to see him.’
Humility goes a long way in both stating your opinion and in building strong relationships. However you choose to tackle this issue, giving yourself a strong dose of humble pie can only help matters.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster