Conversations can be difficult with those who disagree with our viewpoints. Sometimes these turn into painful discussions, because each party comes together with different life experiences. Most of us defend, deflect, or distract ourselves when we are triggered by something hurtful coming from another. In any conflict, we can aim to diffuse instead.
We are living in increasingly polarizing times. Many people want to categorize people based on one or two shared thoughts, rather than taking the time to calm and quiet ourselves in order to truly listen and seek to understand in Christian compassion.
But people are complex. Everyone is. We all enter conversations with our own worldviews, backgrounds, and assumptions. Our wounds create difficulty in communicating effectively, clearly, and charitably. Each of us speaks from our wounds. So how do we repair a rupture or misunderstanding? Here are some examples of how we can navigate the misunderstandings in our relationships, whether in person or online.
Begin With Softness
As Christians, we strive to practice charity. We begin with softness, validating the other person’s feelings. “I’m sorry I hurt you” or “I can understand why you feel this way” are good starters. In heated debate, charity always seeks the good in another person’s argument, regardless of whether or not we agree. Its aim is to diffuse the beast of anger before it transitions into bitterness, harsh judgment, and division.
Point out what you see as sincerely valuable and true in their sharing. “I really appreciated your remark on…” or “You made such a valid point about…” Always begin here, never with disagreement or criticism, especially on social media.
A person is far more likely to listen to your perspective, however widely it differs from theirs, if you begin with the good. This is the heart of Christian dialogue and the beginning of ecumenism. We cannot attain unity without some semblance of diplomacy and civil mutual respect.
Make Your Point Without Condescension
Next, make your point without using condescension or name-calling. Instead of, “the right way to see this issue is,” try, “in my experience or understanding, I have found this to be helpful.” Rather than “these idiots don’t get it,” say, “I find it sad to hear there is so much hatred going on [with this group of people].”
End with an affirmation, a kind comment, a powerful rhetorical question. Always err on the side of kindness, which is at the root of charity. It is better to be meek and to pray for humility in such exchanges than to strive to be right in an arrogant and indignant fashion.
Speak With Honesty and Love
Honesty in conversation bears risk. So does love. When combined, most people do not want to see themselves as they are – through the lens of honesty and out of genuine love; they’d rather punish the deliverer. It’s easier, safer, to maintain one’s emotional fortress than to allow the sting of love transform by way of humble admission and acceptance of one’s flaws.
People can’t hear of how to change if change causes more pain. Love is, therefore, often not recognized as love when our brokenness is keenly and perpetually felt. The wounded person is not able to sort through love spoken in honesty from brutal honesty that creates more pain.
Divine Love sometimes coincides or overlaps with one’s psychological or emotional process of healing. This is another reason why it’s so vital that we do not engage in harsh discourse when a hot-button topic pops up on our social media feed or at a family gathering. Quite simply, we don’t know what wounds we are dealing with in another person, and we must be careful not to allow our own to interfere with the work that God wants to do through and in that potentially fruitful conversation.
Fidelity to God throughout hurt feelings in conversation, as we offer Him our tears, are pathways through the multifaceted darkness of the human condition.