Sunday, April 5, 2009

Differences, Respect, and Role Models

Recently I stumbled across another Internet shoving match. One person noticed something that appeared on another person's blog and posted something negative about it with a link back. The link back let the 2nd person know so he read what had been written. Then he (the 2nd person) posted about that.

Then readers of each blog divided into supporters of each respective author and began a war by blog comment. Members of each group defended their own favorite blog author.

These things happen all the time both in real life and on the Internet. It might be argued that the Internet makes things worse for several reasons including the fact that it is hard to properly communicate nuance by posting alone. And there is a certain anonymity in Internet communication that perhaps causes people to be a lit more uninhibited. But really I am not sure there is that much difference having been involved in both kinds myself.

A few years ago I became friends with this fellow and we met once a week to pray with each other. We chose a church about half-way between our jobs and met during lunch hour in the chapel. The pastor gave us permission. I remember he told us that he had never had anyone ask him something like that. He called us "men of prayer" which at the time seemed a little strange to me since I was barely keeping my head above the waves of the spiritual ocean.

Over several months my friend and I became very good friends and shared many things with each other. We were in the same age range but he had been a believer much longer than had I.

One day we were discussing some Christian doctrine. I do not recall now what it was but it was relatively obscure and certainly not fundamental. I held a different opinion than my friend but I refused to change my mind. It was an issue that people held different positions about.

Finally he grew exasperated with me and told me he no longer wanted to pray with me and in fact was not even certain I was a believer.

And we never did again pray together or even see each other. I tried a few times to contact him only to be rejected. So I let it go. That's been a long time ago and I still feel badly about it.

Another time I was in a group study and I held a position that was different than the one held by the rest of the group. My position was quite common but just not in that particular group. But the group members became increasingly upset that I would not conform to their way of thinking. So the meetings became painful for me because there was always this pressure for me to change. So I quit going.

A few years after I became a believer in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior I was very interested in learning about Systematic Theology and Bible languages and Bible history and so on. So I enrolled in courses at a local religious college that offered such subjects for study.

The college was of a completely different theological perspective than what I had come to believe. So there were plenty of opportunities for conflict.

But at that college there were two professors in particular that I came to regard and respect so highly that I still to this day value their contributions to my life and education.

That was regardless of the vast theological differences between us. It was entirely about the way they treated me and listened to me and made me feel valued and that my opinions were important and worthwhile even if not theirs.

I learned several things from these two men.

One was that I did not really understand their positions on the subjects about which we disagreed. I started out thinking I understood. But after much time spent in dialogue and discussion I found out that what I had thought they believed was much too shallow. The opposite was true as well in that what they thought I (and my side) believed was not really what we believed. We each only saw shadows of the others' thoughts. That was a tremendous revelation to me.

Another thing I learned was that I didn't understand what I believed myself nearly as well as I thought I did. Moreover, I found out I was not very good at explaining it to someone else.

And yet another thing I learned was that it took some time for all of us to get to the point where we actually listened to each other with a view of understanding what the other guy believed. When we first started out we were really only interested in presenting our own side and winning points. That made it really hard to actually listen. But finally we broke through all the nonsense and then we actually made headway.

I also learned that there is a big difference between some with a little knowledge and someone that has really studied a subject. I think we live in a time when people seem to think that any opinion is as good as any other regardless the disparity in study. Each of my professors had about 20 years of study against my novice efforts. I was at that "understood enough to be dangerous" level.

I think you have to first start out respecting the other person and that includes whatever ideas he or she might hold. It is not natural to do that for me or most of us humans probably. We like to start out thinking that those who are like me are the "good guys" and by definition those with other ideas must be "bad guys." That's not respect.

I did not change my mind. They did not change their minds. But we definitely had more appreciation of the others' viewpoint. And in my case I actually finally understood why they believed as they did.

Today I hold pretty much the same viewpoint that I held back then.

But when I meet someone who has differences with me those two men are my role models.

I don't always measure up to the standard they set but I look back over my life and see that I've moved a lot further their way.

I have to more to write on the Role Model subject tomorrow.


dave said...

I lead a church discussion group. We make a point, when we get any new visitor of saying that we all see things differently, and that no one should take any comment any of us make as an indication of our spiritual life or beliefs.
We do pretty well on that one, and well we must.
I am quite liberal about most things, including theology, while most of my members are some where between being arch over the top conservatives to just plain regular conservatives.
This group has gone on now for about 15 years, and we are all very good friends.
I think it is important that we respect each other's varying views. It just may be close to impossible for us to agree (given our different backgrounds and genetics etc.) but we can be respectful friends.
Thanks for the reminder.

Lori1955 said...

I think listening to each other is really the key. That's a hard thing to do when you are trying to convince someone that you are right. :) I have just come to believe that we are all a little bit right and we are all a little bit wrong. There is only one truth and we won't know that until we are face to face with Him.

rilera said...

Amen, Flinty. Even though two people may disagree, they must still show respect for the other's opinion. And it should not throw a divide into their friendship.

nancy said...

great post. my best friend from college, who i still see regularly, has vastly different political views than i. we both know it and for the most part avoid talking politics when together. when we do though, we both listen to one other, yet know we will never change each other's mind.