A friend turned to me, “You’re so disagreeable.” If I had any sense at that moment, I would have thought about how to respond. You cannot win by responding to that statement. I retorted quickly by saying, “No, I am not.” My response only proved his point causing my other friends to laugh.
Some of us relish the role of devil’s advocate. The lively debate energizes us. To a certain extent having these discussions reflects a healthy community. On the other hand, disagreeing and debating can distract us. It can keep us from finding common ground and discussing what matters. Instead of a healthy exchange, the fight spirals into gridlock. No one changes along the way. Frustration forms in a relationship and hurt develops with each other.
I will never forget this conversation. It surfaces in my mind at moments when I want to disagree or look for a debate. Those moments when my mouth gets ahead of my thoughts. People hear us louder when we disagree with them. Often, others desire us to listen rather than go toe to toe on an issue. Wisdom asks this question; is it worth it?
Thomas à Kempis in the 1400s dealt with the distractions of debating and disagreeing. He said this in the Imitation of Christ:
If we were as diligent in uprooting vices and planting virtues as we are in debating abstruse questions, there would not be so many evils or scandals among us nor such laxity in monastic communities. Certainly, when Judgment Day comes we shall not be asked what books we have read, but what deeds we have done; we shall not be asked how well we have debated, but how devoutly we have lived.
Disagreeing and debating reflects on us. They distract us from looking into our lives. We can point other’s flaws or misunderstandings while not taking into consideration our own. Thomas à Kempis hints at the Gospel at work in our lives. Not looking to assert our pride or knowledge, but attempting to understand a person and what they need from us in a conversation. Learning to see others and situations from Jesus’ perspective.
Grace moves us to look into our hearts and motivations. Here are a few questions for us to ask ourselves when we want to disagree or debate:
Do people consider me a disagreeable person?
What’s at stake by me playing devil’s advocate?
Will this person hear my intent to help them?
Why am I looking for this debate?
How is disagreeing distracting me from own issues?
How can I join this person rather than stifle them?
Perhaps, our family, friends, and coworkers could use a little less of our disagreeing and debating. We have the opportunity to extend them grace from God by listening and encouraging them today. Lastly, let’s take the opportunity reflect on areas of our hearts where God would call us to grow, rather than giving into the distractions.
Photo credit by Martin Kníže.