Life seems to be getter a little better; there’s more blue sky and optimism recently. That is so good!
But there is still a lingering edge.
I’m not expecting a magic solution to a major pandemic, but while the virus decreases, tension doesn’t seem to be falling accordingly.
The edge isn’t all about the pandemic, of course; COVID-19 just added fuel to the fire.
Why does healthy discussion seem to turn so quickly to hurtful division?
That’s a huge question with so many levels to it, and we see a wide range of divisions from personal relationships to politics.
Part of the reason for so much division is the elevation of fear, anxiety, and isolation. When people feel heightened levels of sustained pressure, they react in ways they normally would not react.
Added to that is the reality that life online has unleashed new habits of communication. It’s easy to argue online with someone you’ve never met.
It’s easy to shoot bullets from behind a keyboard, but it takes courage and grace to engage someone face to face in honest communication.
As a leader, I imagine that you have invested countless hours trying to turn divisive moments into healthy and productive encounters.
It’s not easy, is it?
But we can’t give up.
The beauty of resolving divisive moments is if we create enough of them, they build a unified movement.
The cumulative effect is powerful, and the following practical advice will help you create meaningful moments.
5 ways to help turn a divisive moment into a meaningful encounter
1) Predetermine your essentials
When you get really honest with yourself, the list of things you would die for is short, so the list of things you’d fight for should not be long.
That list gives you insight into your true essentials, the things in life that matter most to you.
The rest are non-essentials, and there is no reason to draw lines in the sand forcing a choice.
That doesn’t mean you roll over on most topics in life—your opinion matters. Speak up. But that is different than engaging in verbal combat.
It starts with knowing your values.
Your values help shape your essentials, and your essentials bring clarity to your priorities. (And “everything” can’t be a priority.)
If everything is a priority, you are probably driven more by emotion in the moment rather than essentials and values.
It’s easier to be against something than for something, but far less productive.
Knowing what you are for and standing firm requires wisdom, courage, and resilience.
2) Stay in the moment, but think eternal
To connect and be relevant, you must stay present in the moment, but to make a difference, you must think eternal.
It’s the art of combining immediate heart and focus with a long-range direction.
If you approach each conversation with heart-level authenticity and carry with you God’s values of love, grace, kindness, truth, etc., that always has a dramatic impact on the conversation.
Knowing the big picture changes how you handle the moment, and the long view always includes a person’s relationship with God.
Therefore, the critical question is, “Does your contribution to the moment ultimately draw the person closer to God, or possibly create more division and distance from God?”
That’s not all your responsibility to carry, I know, each person must own their own choices. But if your desire is meaning over division, then you carry as much responsibility as you can.
3) Discover what is really going on under the hood
If someone starts at a level ten intensity or escalates there quickly, there is usually something else going on.
In a recent off-the-cuff, low-intensity conversation where facemasks came up, it was like a switch was flipped. The person launched an attack, and an instant division was created.
That had to be about something else.
He had just lost his mom, and it remained very unclear if COVID was in the mix or not.
Make the extra effort to find out what the real issue is. So often, what’s on the surface covers up what is really going on underneath.
4) De-escalate the heat
Don’t allow yourself to be provoked; instead, do all you can to lower the division-causing conflict.
Ask questions. Find agreement. Get on common ground.
Insist on conversation over debate.
The nature of debate carries with it a competition in which someone wins, and someone loses. Debate requires someone to be right and someone to be wrong.
Avoid that at all costs.
Instead, say: “I’d love to have a conversation with you, but if you want a heated debate where one of us loses, and one wins, I’m going to pass.”
My willingness to walk away from an unproductive argument is not fear of conflict; it’s about my passion for being productive and redemptive.
5) Sometimes relationship itself is the solution
There are times when the stakes are high, the topic is intense, and agreement is simply not going to happen, but that doesn’t mean the relationship must end.
When someone knows you care more about them as a human being than the topic at hand, it’s amazing what can happen over time.
There have been many times where I shut down the actual conversation and asked the person to tell me more about who they are. In some situations, a long-term friendship has taken place.
It’s very rare that a principled and convictional conversation is worth ending a relationship. That can happen (see #1), but it’s highly unlikely that it needs to come to that end.
Keep the door open.
It’s not always up to you, but if you follow the principles found in these points, you can usually keep a door open for a long time for the potential meaningful engagement.