For all those who have engaged in those challenging socio-political conversations or the theological perplexities;
Or for those who have sat with me and the many like me and have listened intently only for us both to leave our conversation a bit frustrated;
And to my dear friends who have sat with me and tried to explain their fine position only to have me say, “I’m 50-50 with you …”
May the Lord bless you.
Not in some clichéd way but in the true sense of God being with you – that God would help us all to unpack meaning and the goodness that is often found in our relationships, friendships and in community.
In this post, we want to highlight that nuance is needed in our relationships and conversations and how we can include it while also retaining our heart-felt convictions. We all want to listen and also to be heard. This is the only way honest and authentic conversation works.
I consider myself fortunate to have people in my life that share certain convictions as mine. At the same time, I consider myself fortunate that many of the very same people have quite different convictions as well. Though it can be challenging, and sometimes downright vexing, I’m better off given this reality. I hope many of them feel the same.
But it doesn’t always feel we are better off, right? Here are a few ways to pursue meaningful and nuanced conversation on the challenging subjects that emerge with the people we care about:
1. Accept that it’s an unrealistic expectation that your friend must begin the conversation in agreement on your points and terms or even with the framing of the argument as you understand it. The sooner we realize that we come from different starting points, the better we understand the conversation we are in. This is true for both our friends and loved ones and for the acquaintances and strangers we discuss such matters with online or in person.
In my opinion this is why so often our conversations begin so poorly and this contributes to the problem facing our current discourse. The expectation to think, see and describe these matters precisely “as I do” is detrimental as it undermines our friend’s personal agency which erodes our mutual respect, and risks over-extending our pre-suppostions. Perhaps a helpful way to begin such a conversation is by simply asking, “How are you seeing this? What comes to your mind when you think of this?
2. Consider the possibility that your friend loves God and others and is as informed on this issue as much you are, maybe more. Consider the possibility that they are more righteous than you. It pains me to say this but some of my friends are smarter, wiser, kinder, and more Christlike than me. And maybe there’s one that’s funnier than me too but Jerry Seinfeld and I are not that close anymore so not sure that really counts.
But why consider such things? For one it may actually be true! But second, it allows for you to operate out of a posture of humility. It may not be true, it’s very possible that your ideological opponent is less informed. And it’s possible that your friend is very informed and angry or hurting, the possibilities are endless. But you’ve lost nothing in extending the benefit of the doubt while creating an opportunity that leads you both to great gain.
3. Realize the objective of a conversation on a debatable subject is to look for the opportunity or for the nuance that will help to advance together towards a mutually better solution, practice or posture. The goal is not to be right or to justify one’s position or to conquer what one might believe is an inferior ideology. That’s actually another part of the problem. If one leaves the conversation battered, shamed, and offended, then most likely the gap has further widened and the relationship may have been strained.
Of course, I am not referring to conversations that argue the best way to the airport or what a couple ought to watch on Netflix tonight or even particular family and professional points of tension that need working out. While nuance certainly has a role in such matters as well, it’s very likely that one has a better route to the airport and the debate on what to watch has its own unique inter-personal dynamic depending on whom you are speaking with. While nuance is helpful in such moments, this post is making the case for nuance in the “debatable” in terms of our social-political, philosophical, ideological, and theological conversations we’ve been engaged in for years. Such societal examples include the gun-violence epidemic that has seized our society, or the debates on sanctity of life in its various forms, our racial division on personal and systemic levels, or the factors of why Millennials and Generation Z’s are leaving the church and taking some X’ers and Boomers with them.
The good of the conversation is advanced not when someone comes to agree with your point of view. That’s a small vision of “good.” The “good” is advanced when we truly take time to listen, understand and appreciate what the other is thinking, feeling, and wondering. And that’s where having an appreciation for nuance is of great benefit. It allows the listening parties to uncover something they may have missed or not truly appreciated as significant.
You are on the right track when you find yourself naturally saying, “I see what you meant” and when you hear, “That’s an interesting perspective I haven’t really considered before and you both think to yourselves, “Hmmm I’ll have to noodle on this a bit more.” (Yep, all is lost if you are not using the word noodle 🙂
Indeed, there is no blueprint for the perfect conversation, but may this sort of posture help us have better ones. We all crave deeper relationships and more meaningful dialogue without the pain and frustration that many of us are experiencing. And so may we be more intentional about nurturing such conversations so that we can exchange a deeper level of perspectives, uncover and appreciate the nuances and hopefully that will lead us not only to better discourse but also to closer and healthier relationships.