Over the past year and a half or so, the issue of disagreeing well has been on my mind for a variety of reasons. Polarization has become more and more apparent in the Western world, with a resurgence of right-wing populism battling it out with more urgent and vocal calls for progressive socialism and egalitarianism. Within these two camps there are further disagreements that are almost more vicious than the debates between the two camps. In my own life, I’ve had to confront the practicalities of disagreeing well from a position of being the minority voice in a vulnerable and seeming powerless position–and this has caused an inner wrestling.
One of the skills I have always valued, and begun to believe myself somewhat adept in, is learning when and how to make a stand. Yet I’ve begun to realize that I may have been too confident in that knowledge, that I may in fact, have been letting my inherent dislike of conflict, and my fear of the risks to myself given my socioeconomic position, keep silent through the rationalization that speaking out at that time and in that place would change nothing, and cause me a great deal of trouble in the process.
Reading books like Talking Across The Divide by Justin Lee and Don’t Label Me by Irshad Manji reinforced this rationalization through no fault of their own. After all, I knew I advocated publicly in many ways, so clearly in the times and places I was silent it was out of a recognition of my limitations and a desire to disagree well–funny, how self-deceptive even those of us who make self-honesty and self-examination a regular practice can be.
I’ve begun to be convicted, seeing in Scripture and in calls to action of feminists, pastors, and theologians, that perhaps I held too narrow a view of disagreeing well, and of using love to overcome evil. When I look at the Scriptural accounts of Paul, Jesus, and other early Christians, I see that while they certainly advocated disagreeing well–and indeed, Jesus’ relationship with the Pharisees, while adversarial in many ways was far more complex than many are aware of, with Jesus’ point-of-view being much closer to the Pharisees than many realize, and his repeated dialogues with them showing a willingness to hash things out rather than avoid each other entirely–they also did not shy from sharing their opinions and views openly and bluntly, stating plainly when they disagreed and calling to account those who spread fear, hate, and despair.
I begin to wonder then whether a little more openly expressed disagreement is called for, even if it causes tensions and increases my vulnerability. For while I do not think things are quite as dire as many fear, I do feel like we are at a critical juncture in human history–while I have no doubt humanity’s story is not close to being done, the decisions we make will dictate exactly how long the moral arc of the universe ends up taking in its journey towards justice. And I feel that we must do what we can to make that journey shorter, so that humanity can actually reach its full potential.