Our world is polarized on absolutely everything.
- Within our culture, we disagree on politics, race, healthcare, mandates, sexuality, schooling, and the economy.
- Within our churches, we disagree on ethics, theology, methodology, gender, worship, and denominational issues.
- Within our homes, we disagree on technology, entertainment, responsibilities, privileges, and agendas.
And within all those environments, we not only disagree, but we also disagree significantly and passionately. It’s not enough that we don’t see eye to eye, but in the hostile age we live in, we must disagree to a tense degree. You can’t say someone is wrong, you have to shout about it online.
How can we address the hostility? Can we diffuse the situation?
Something I have tried to do recently has been very helpful to deescalating conflict – I have tried to summarize another’s viewpoint by providing an explanation without an exaggeration.
Let me explain.
If I am in an interpersonal conflict, I will summarize my opponent’s words, actions, and facial expressions with exaggerating tendencies.
“You always do this…you never do that…”
I find myself changing my voice to sound like the person but sound just a little bit more idiotic. I try to mimic expressions or movements but magnify them to a cartoonish level.
If I view something in the culture or the church differently than another, I find myself using generalizations and exaggerations to win people to my cause. To debate someone, I wait till they aren’t around and state how ridiculous their viewpoint is by using evocative language.
“Those people actually think…did you know that they never…they probably don’t even care about…”
We see their direction and exaggerate it to such a level that anyone listening to our portrayal would obviously see our side.
This change has been a significant alteration for me.
When I talk about another’s viewpoint, I try to say it in a way that the person who holds it would say that I expressed it accurately and fairly.
- As a Christian, can I state the beliefs about another religion without sounding condescending (while still holding fast to my own beliefs)?
- As a Baptist, could I explain the differences of a different denomination without sounding prideful and rude?
- As a member of one church, can I talk about the practices of another without allowing you to sense my approval or frustration?
- As a family member, can I repeat what you are saying about your feelings without seeming impatient?
- As a friend, can I recall your hurt without presenting in such a way adds more hurt?
The Psalmist put it very simple for us:
Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.Psalm 120:2
If you want to stop the spread of a fire, you don’t pour more gasoline on it. If you want to diffuse a tense situation in-person or online, you shouldn’t exaggerate deceitfully what another person has said or done. We should pray that God would deliver us from lying in a subtle yet sinful way. One of the easiest ways to do that is through exaggeration in conflict.
Don’t exaggerate to make yourself look better or to make another look worse.
If you are in a disagreement with another, hold fast to your biblical position, but can you at least show respect to someone who thinks differently than you?
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.