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Achieving Respectful Disagreement: two good examples

A lot of us try to achieve agreement before we've reached disagreement.

Sometimes, we try to convince our counterparts who see things differently before we accurately understand the nature of our disagreement. In so doing, we often misjudge their line of thought, or deeper still, their motives.

Sometimes, we try to convince people who aren't yet thinking about an issue to take sides - with us - by caricaturing or mocking our opponents so their viewpoint doesn't even receive a fair hearing.

Both patterns are terribly common in religion and politics. It's always nice to see people bucking the trend. Here are two examples.

Jim Fletcher and I have been corresponding for a while both in private and in public. He and I see a lot of things quite differently. He wrote an article recently about the future of traditional Evangelical/fundamentalist approaches to biblical prophecy in which, I thought, he handled disagreement very well.

Erik Freiburger posted a response to a chapter from my book Naked Spirituality. In my chapter on gratitude, I talked about being grateful for capacities like sight, hearing, mobility, etc., and Erik responded as a person who was injured in a car accident 18 years ago.

It was a few nights ago though that after starting Brian McLaren’s new book ‘Naked Spirituality‘ that I came across a conversation he expressed having about gratitude that deeply disturbed me. I usually am greatly inspired by his writing which is why it took me back so much when reading it. Try as I might, the discontent would not leave so I thought it best to put pen to paper and express my thoughts in an open letter here.

Then he explains "In open truth, here I am, in a wheelchair, paralyzed as a quadriplegic after a car accident 18 years ago, reading this story, and what I’m hearing is you would rather do anything, including go as far into debt as possible, then become like me!"

At that point, if Erik's goal was to find and defeat an opponent, he could cast me as an uncaring, unempathetic, unenlightened clod and stir up one of the online skirmishes for which the world-wide internet webs have become so famous. Instead, he uses his response as an opportunity to instruct: "Will McLaren ever read it? I do not know but, I hope by verbalizing it we might all grow to find a deeper, more unconditional spirit of gratitude."

That spirit and motive for disagreement - not to mention its tone - is, to me, downright inspiring. In the referenced anecdote in my chapter on gratitude, I was indeed trying to help people find gratitude. I wasn't aware that my anecdote encouraged gratitude of a conditional nature. That may not be a bad place to start, but it has unintended consequences that I didn't think of when I was writing - but Erik did. So he didn't attack my motives or my intelligence. He simply added a new perspective that is truly important and worthwhile.

I have been helped by people disagreeing in this constructive and respectful way so many times in my life. I hope we can all go and do likewise.