The Possibility of Persuasion

I usually avoid conflict and controversy.

I have strong opinions on lots of things but I generally prefer to share them discerningly and in contexts where trust has been established and any misunderstandings have a good chance of being addressed. I’m not afraid of tough topics (some friends tease me about always hunting for the elephant in the room) but I prioritize maintaining healthy relationships over trying to win an argument. It has served me well, mostly.

In a time and culture where there can be a lot of affirmation for posting or saying things that dismiss or demean others in search of a clever mic drop moment I sometimes struggle. The thing is, I can be highly judgmental and I’m quick witted enough to craft some pretty clever tweets that could probably earn me some kudos from those on my side.

But that’s not what I deeply want.

As much as the endorphin rush of a cutting comment can be fun, it always leaves me feeling crappy afterward. It’s the fast food of human interaction; enticing and immediately satisfying but often with regret later.

I would ultimately much rather persuade someone to consider my viewpoint than embarrass them online and have them turn away. (And in my best moments I am even open to being persuaded by others that I may be wrong too).

I’ve written before, and delivered a webinar, on the things leaders should consider before taking a stand on controversial topics. As much as I am convicted that there are times when bold positions must be taken, I hold to the belief that the real desire is not to win a debate or “dunk on” someone but to help them choose to join us. That may take time, it may require extending more grace than I want to, and it definitely means I have to resist the temptation to blast away at people who have different positions than I do. But it actually helps me.

There are many things I was pretty sure about years ago that I see completely differently now. I often say that my most fundamental theological conviction is that I am wrong about a great many things. That perspective should remind me to keep some humility in play.

I respect that some people are drawn to battle. They are wired to engage in debates and are able to stay emotionally removed from the conflict. That’s never been me. And from what I’ve observed its not the majority of us.

Everyone I know seems to agree that increasing polarization and division is dangerous. In our honest reflections a lot of us can think of a friendship that was lost over an issue that is really not worth that much. There are too many big issues, too much we have in common, and too much we need one another to achieve for us to willingly part ways without making greater efforts to stay connected.

I’m not saying bite your tongue when someone says something offensive or overlook any of the toxic behaviours or abuses of power that are so common and so damaging. I’m just asking us to forego the cheap rush of blasting each other and try instead to remind ourselves that flawed humanity is our universal affliction. From that basis we can address the real issues in ways that hang on to hope for change and the possibility of growth for as long as possible.

There are some things worth closing the door on someone, but getting a few likes or emojis from the echo chamber isn’t it. And I need that reminder, probably more than you do.

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