6 Ways to Have a Conviction (without Being a Jerk)

jerkAs I write this, my government’s been out of commission for 13 days. Locked in an epic standoff, the two polarized parties running Washington would rather run us into the rocks than find a middle ground.

One only need visit Twitter, Facebook, or even their local church to see that the poisonous polarization in Washington is being played out regularly in every American city. Somehow we’ve come to a place where every political, theological, or ideological discussion becomes a zero-sum game—I can’t win unless you lose.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

While it’s important to have convictions, they don’t have to be held in a way that undermines public dialog and civility.

Here are some tips to help you hold tight to your principles without being an insufferable jerk.

1. Value people over opinions

Do people matter to you? Which people? If you can only be courteous to people who agree with you, they might not be the problem.

My Facebook news feed is often a sickening cavalcade of demeaning commentaries and memes.  Instead of interesting and helpful dialog about where people differ, we resort to demonizing those we disagree with.

Believe it or not, mature people can hold strong opinions without devaluing those who disagree.

2. Don’t generalize and stereotype

One of the interesting things about humans is their ability to pick and choose ideas from life’s ideological buffet. Not every Democrat is pro-choice, and not every Republican supports the death penalty. I don’t know many people who tow the complete party line when it comes to political or theological principles.

People are complex, and you miss a lot when you write them off based on generalizations.

3. Be willing to be wrong

When you add up all of your political, sociological, and theological opinions, how right do you think you are? 50%? 75% 85%?

Even if you’re arrogant enough to believe you’re 90% right about everything, which 10% is wrong? I would hope that, if you could answer that question, you’d stop believing it.

The truth is: we don’t know where we’re wrong. This fact alone should transform our dialog.

There are many people who disagree with you who are both smarter and more educated than you are. This doesn’t need to change your opinion (smart people can be wrong, too.), but it should give you pause.

Between you and me, I don’t trust anyone who has all the same convictions at 50 that they had at 25.

4. Don’t engage in scorn as entertainment

There’s a whole cottage industry of radio, media, and pastoral celebrities who regularly and cynically employ derision as part of their strategy.

Along with their philosophies, the millions who listen and follow these talking heads adopt their destructive method of dehumanizing others.

If the person informing you is mean, it’s best to get your information somewhere else.

5. Look for common ground

It’s more fun to discover where you and someone else agree than it is to find fault with every opinion. You should try it.

Nothing gets more tiresome than dealing with someone who is always weighing every interaction for orthodoxy and (what they consider) an acceptable opinion.

I believe that you can find common ground with anyone. And the more you focus on the positives, the more you can build a relationship that makes your other opinions influential, too.

Seriously, give it a try.

6. Give people the benefit of the doubt

I read a pro-Calvinist blog a while back that summed up their anti-Arminian argument with, “We just value the Bible more than they do.”

This scarecrow argument is ridiculous, but you see it everywhere. There’s nothing dumber than distorting, exaggerating or misrepresenting someone’s position in order to discount it outright.

Take people at face value, and assume they have the same good intentions that you do.

Someone needs to turn this country’s venomous dialog around. It’s not going to happen from the top down—we need to take responsibility for it. What do you say? Want to start engaging in meaningful dialog for a change?

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