How to talk about tough topics
John Yeatts, associate dean of general education and common learning, and Brian Smith, lecturer in Bible, discuss how to disagree while preserving the health of relationships.
I think tension is crucial to intellectual and faith development. When students see there’s more than one way to look at a particular issue, they are compelled to consider another perspective—that’s extraordinarily valuable, not just for intellectual development, but for faith development as well.
Disagreements, if dealt with appropriately and honestly, can also help build relationships for the future. One time a colleague disagreed with something I said and later came to talk with me about it. After our candid conversation, there was a new level of trust. I could trust that if anything happened, she would come to me and talk about it.
Disagreements can also help to avoid group-think. If you’re hearing a variety of perspectives, the end result can be much stronger, much better.
I think disagreements can be constructive when they take place within the context of a relationship. If there’s no relationship, sometimes comments can be taken the wrong way. Also, differences are not necessarily good or bad. Sometimes they can just be different. And those divergent perspectives can provide a whole other way of looking at things.
It’s important to be truly open when we are dealing with one of these difficult issues. If we believe that these are opportunities for growth, we’ve got to enter conversations with the readiness to admit that we may be wrong, that we might not have the answers, and we might even find ourselves convinced.
Disagreements teach us how to love. As Jesus said, if you only love people who love you and who agree with you, then what good is that? But we should learn to reach out and love people who disagree with us. [Luke 6:32]
What’s the response when there is a conflict or a disagreement, and the other party just isn’t interested in resolving it?
In those cases, I think you may have to go back and figure out what you do agree on. Is there a common point of agreement? It may even be about something outside the point of disagreement. We can try to balance the negative with what’s positive and what we can agree on, the things that unite us instead of divide us.
| Next Page