Monday, 1 February 2010

I graciously disagree

I remember once seeing a course called 'Assertiveness Training' on offer at work and thinking, I need the opposite of that. My weaknesses have never revolved around boldness and letting people know what I think, but in having tact and knowing how to be gracious in disagreement.

Sure, it's easy to offer grace and compassion to someone who's down and out or who I pity. Where I stumble is when I feel patronised or when the other person seems just a bit too smug. That's when my defenses go way up, and almost in a daze, I feel the need to put that person in their place.

I hate to admit it, but there's something in me that thrives (in an unhelpful way) on being right and getting the last word. I tell myself that the harnessing of this fire is what makes me a good activist. But there are also times when this same fire isn't always appropriate to unleash.

Recently, I've been getting to know someone I'll call Sharon. She's a lovely gal and I really like her. But as we've gone past shallow introductions, I've started to realise that she actually has some strong political views very contrary to my own on issues I care deeply about. As she started going off the other day, in her lovely way, about immigration (one of my pet issues), inside I was whirling. I was thinking indignantly, 'You've got to be kidding me!'. But, for some reason I felt that instead of telling her how wrong she was I should practice graciousness.

As Sharon continued to tell me her views, instead of thinking of my sparkling rebuttal, I was thinking how often, people don't really want a fair debate, they just want to be heard. Often, people's views betray their fears and experiences.

I don't want to tune out people like Sharon, who I (even vehemently) disagree with, I still want to engage. But instead of being right, I want to practise listening and finding common ground. Practise giving her motives the benefit of the doubt. Practice choosing my battles and my words.

I'm in a season where I feel like I'm swimming in grace, so I want to practice spreading that graciousness about, though I freely admit it's hard and doesn't come naturally. But when I think about it, when I'm old and look back, I'd rather have cultivated a reputation for offering grace than being smart, witty and articulate any day.

Is it just me that graciousness doesn't always come naturally to? How do you balance speaking your mind with offering people grace?


Hebrew 6:19 said...

Great question! I just taught a seminar on healthy conflict/confrontation so I have a zillion thoughts but I'll just affirm you on what you've already said. Grace is key. If you look at Jesus life he definitely didn't shy away from confronting people and often answered questions with questions which promotes listening. The key I've found is Grace first, Truth second. (See John 8 for Jesus example) If the foundation of your conversation is grace than it will almost always lead to a stellar opportunity to speak truth. The challenge is how to balance the two. I've found prayer helps.

Nadine said...

Beautiful post.

I try to handle situations like that by taking a deep breath and trying to keep my mouth shut. Especially when people go off about politics.

I never talk about politics, and even though I have my opinions, I keep them to myself. A recent situation involved a friend's family member who continually put down the USA, the troops, etc. But I knew he was just egging for a debate, which was confirmed by my friend later. So during the dinner I took a deep breath and smiled, and vented later.

And I'm really happy I did. As I look back on my life, there are many times when I wish I had kept my mouth shut. But at least I'm learning now.

alisha said...

I really like 'grace first, truth second' principle. I think naturally I'm more of a 'truth first' type of girl so need to always work to keep grace at the front of my mind.

Nadine, I think you're right, knowing when to keep your mouth shut is part of grace. I think my thing is that I love talking about politics, but want to be able to do so in a way that doesn't make everyone angry by the end of the conversation! I'm trying. :)

Jess Fouche said...

That first comment was from Andrew by the way- I think we need to fix his profile:)

I have the hardest time giving grace to people who are hurting others...

I think you are right on that often people just want to be heard, and often instead of really listening we are thinking of what we will say next!

alisha said...

Hey Jess, I wasn't sure whether it was you are Andrew, but the more Fouches the merrier. :) I also find it difficult giving grace to people who are hurtful. But I don't think grace means letting bad stuff happen without saying anything about it. Some things need to be said, but I think it's the way we say it that's important.

I love your new blog by the way!

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