Last night I watched the first Presidential Debate. Though I definitely have a preference in the race I will have to say that the debate was anything but "presidential." Both candidates interrupted, attempted to "talk over" their opponent, and stooped to allegations and name calling. In short, I thought the true looser was the American people. But, it is not really politics that I want to focus on; rather it is the tension between substance and style in communication...
Frequently I will see couples (or families) who are "at war" with each other over a variety of issues and arguing seems to be the only type of communication that is found in the family. These arguments frequently are: intense, marked by interruptions and name calling, and filled with all sorts of allegations and "put downs." I frequently hear one or more of the participants say something like, "I just can't understand why my spouse can't see the truth in what I'm saying." The truth of the matter is, it is possible to make relevant "points" but to do so in such a way that no one really hears, or even cares. There is an old adage, "People don't care what we know until they know that we care." When we refuse to allow others to finish their thoughts, fail to summarize (clarify) what we think we have heard, and respond, in anger, with personal attacks rather than remaining calm and making personal disclosures (what we think, feel, notice, want, etc.) the result is sure to be escalating levels of tension, "tuning out," and emotional disconnection.
While this is not the place to review an entire curriculum on conflict resolution, I would offer a few helpful principles that we should put into practice when dealing with conflict...
James 1:9: "Dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
2. Be Thoughtful and Succinct
Proverbs 21:23: "Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble"
Proverbs 17:18: "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips he is deemed intelligent."
3. Watch Your Tone
Proverbs 12:18: "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing."
Colossians 4:6: "Let your conversation be always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
4. Merge Truth with Love
Ephesians 4:15: "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ."
5. Be Responsible
Matthew 12:36: "But I tell you that every careless word that people speak they shall give an account for it on the day of judgement."
Obviously we could go on and on; there are so many verses that inform us regarding the wise use of our words. But for now I will simply say: there are times (as couples, families, leaders, opponents) when important issues need to be discussed. The only hope we have for resolving the issues before us is to discuss (even debate) with a spirit of grace and measure of respect for one another.
Several years ago I heard a wife say to her husband, "I don't really agree with you, but I do believe that you understand me and I do believe that you care." Perhaps there are times when being perceived as caring is of far greater value than simply wining an argument. I would be curious as to what you think.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.