Does disagreeing with someone automatically cancel a relationship?
Over the last year, the world has seen a spotlight on some of the most unresolved conflicts humanity has faced. Racism, conflict over land, freedom of speech, religion and even over whose ‘truth’ is actually true. These issues are deeply rooted in generations of unresolved conflict and so many people have strongly held views on what is the right and the wrong response to these issues.
As an onlooker, it can be hard to know how to process situations like this, especially if you are being asked to take a side.
Any conversation about these issues, whether it’s face to face or online, can cause conflict – even despite best intentions to have a fruitful and meaningful conversation. As followers of Jesus, it can be difficult to know how to speak truth or try to gain understanding in these situations.
In our just completed “Being a peacemaker in a complex world” course for Year 11 and 12 students and beyond, we’ve dedicated one lesson to this very topic. How do you have meaningful conversation around controversial topics while remaining a peacemaker, listening to the other person, and knowing how to disagree respectfully?
Conflict as an opportunity!
Early on in the course (and as you know if you’ve done any PeaceWise training), we teach that conflict can be an opportunity to have fruitful discussions and deepen our connection with others if done well.
When facing a conflict over a disagreement, we can ask the following questions to help us respond well to a conflict – even one where I disagree with another person’s beliefs:
- How can I respond in a way that glorifies God (that is, that pleases and honours him)?
- Is my response demonstrating a servant heart towards the other person?
- How can I become more like Jesus even through the middle of this conflict? (for example – is there something about my character or behaviour that God is wanting to change?).
How do I respond when someone disagrees with me?
When addressing controversial topics, we explain to the students that people will strongly disagree with you and your views on the topic. The way we respond to this disagreement is important because, it can result in the conflict over ideas either having positive or negative results at a relational level.
One of the helpful peacemaking tools to help understand how we respond to conflict is the Slippery Slope. The slope represents three different ways we can respond to conflict – we can have an escape or attack response or a make peace response.
Attack responses are aggressive and destructive towards the other person. Escape responses run from the argument – which leave issues unresolved, but also can be seen as a lack of respect too – please often leave the person who ran feeling disempowered or frustrated.
If we choose a make peace response, we can have meaningful conversations with others even if we have different views on a topic. We can approach controversy head-on while still prioritising peace between the other person and us. We show respect and courage by entering into the conversation with a commitment to treat the other person as we would like to be treated (Luke 6:31).
Disagreement does not cancel a relationship
It’s important to remember that disagreement with another person’s views doesn’t mean that person is terrible or that your relationship with them can’t continue. Knowing how to disagree respectfully is a key part of being a peacemaker. It shows we can empathise with others. We can look beyond the surface and understand why they believe what they do without passing judgement. In this way we model Christlikeness to them – and remain open to what we might learn from them at the same time.
Leah is a Writer and Curriculum Adviser for PeaceWiseYouth. She has 7 years of experience working with young people in her previous roles as a youth leader, youth pastor and school chaplain. She is passionate about seeing young people reach their full potential in Christ.She is a mum to her fur baby Whitby, loves coffee, travelling and meeting new people.