Last week’s word-power naturally moves on to acquiring the skill of withdrawing positive benefits from disagreements and discussions before they lapse into hurtful and dividing arguments which are usually of little benefit to anyone.
Disagreements in small doses are healthy, especially when edifying discussions ensue. Discussions not only deter arguments but resemble ‘mind’-vitamins—stimulate needed change, expand understanding, develop confidence in what we believe, enrich attitudes and strengthen character.
Of course, few of us enjoy being involved in argumentative dialogue, hearing an argument or watching dissention evolve in a matter of minutes were moving into where we were to have free rent in exchange for yard care. We had been married just two months and Jim’s parents had come to visit and also help us move. From what I had been told, Jim’s dad was a man of few words but I cringed and actually shook as the feisty lady hurled very strong words and Jim’s dad promptly returned them. There’s was not a word of explanation given after she stormed off.
Growing up, we sibs had our share of skirmishes, but we were not taught the practice of discussion to avoid arguments. Surely Mom and Dad disagreed, discussed and argued but we as athletes become embroiled on-the-field throwing punches and threatening words while referees and coaches struggle to separate fighters.
I recall the first time I was privy to a heated argument which strangely enough erupted between Jim’s dad and the lady in charge of renting the apartment Jim and I were unaware of it. In many ways, keeping the value of politely disagreeing and discussion under wraps denies the younger crowd from developing that valuable communication skill.
During our long years of marriage, I only heard Jim in a heated argument with one person—an insurance agent who made a mistake on our auto policy. After one of our teenagers totaled our station wagon, sliding on slippery road into a ravine, we received no insurance coverage. I had never seen Jim get so upset and angry and speak that strongly to anyone.
Jim patiently heard others out but he was by no means a push over. Sensing thinkers usually win arguments because they remember facts and figures. He was polite and respected different opinions and was humble enough to concede when an error was pointed out as the treasurer of our church described:
“Having a friendship with Pastor Jim was great. He also, when needed, served as a teller for which I was in charge. When I thought Jim made a mistake, I would have to prove he was wrong. If it made sense to him, he would politely drop the subject.”
Unfortunately, arguments without prior discussion are the main fare of couples, families, apartment dwellers, businesses and offices. Consequently, the children receive negative messages to rely on arguments to solve disagreements rather than the better “Let’s discuss this problem before we decide”
Years ago, I learned the importance of courageously sharing disagreements followed by calm discussions from clients who were having difficulty discussing any subject without arguments occurring. “No matter what I say or do an argument ensues” Richard said shaking his head sadly.
“Richard regards my style of communication as argumentative” Juanita countered.” In our family, we disagreed and argued about everything. It was normal. Our parents actually faulted us if we didn’t come up with arguments about why our idea was better than anybody else’s. It’s true that we yelled at each other a lot but we weren’t mad when we disagreed. I feel like something valuable is missing in our relationship because Richard refuses to disagree or argue.”
Guiding Richard and Juanita to adopt the communication skills in welcoming disagreements and submitting to discussion before ultimately arriving at a solution without drama was satisfying. They were fascinated to discover that being transparent concerning disagreements and willing to discuss them from all angles is actually beneficial in understanding each other as well as avoiding knock-down dragged-out arguments which Juanita had always assumed were necessary and normal. The discipline involved in refining these communication skills pays wonderful dividends in all relationships.
Running across a handout--Ten Rules for Getting Along (listed below) --has been helpful in counseling couples, families and other small groups has also inspired this week’s blog.
1. Never both be angry at one time.
2. Never yell at others unless the house or building is on fire.
3. Yield to the wishes of the other as an exercise in self-discipline, if you can’t think of a better one.
4. If you have a choice between making yourself or your mate or co-worker look
good, choose to make the other look good.
5. Never bring up a mistake from the past
6. Neglect other things but not your mate, family, co-workers or club members
7. Never go to bed mad at anyone.
8. As soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake, talk it out and ask sincerely for forgiveness.
9. Allow disagreements to add to discernment for how others believe
10. Remember, it takes two to make an argument. The one who is wrong is the one who will be doing most of the talking.
A friend shared that reasoning with the Senior Citizen for whom she is responsible is a useless enterprise as he complains or disagrees about everything. Find out why someone disagrees with you; why they said that or refused to heed guidelines. Encourage gentle and brief discussions that enable seniors to pinpoint wrong impressions or allay fears that someone wants to trick them.
Avoid shutting down when someone disagrees with you or gives an opinion that’s out of your element. When drawn into an argument, the first thing out of your mouth should be acknowledgment of the disagreement. “I understand that you believe what I’m expecting is too much or is too hard etc.” When you discover that someone is stuck on their views and are evidently not open to any enlightenment, just listen without comment or admit, “We’re miles apart on that subject so I’d like to hear about your family.” Changing the subject becomes our pause button and listening is the wisest mode.
When I’ve asked clients why they didn’t speak up, they usually say, I didn’t want to cause trouble or I wasn’t sure if I was permitted to disagree or disapprove. Some have shared that they are afraid if they disagree with a family member or friend that they’ll be ostracized. Disagreements are not the same as discord or being antagonistic. Agreeing to disagree is often the very best solution.
Proverbs 27:17 fits: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (NIV)
As I wrote this blog an old hymn came to mind: 1. Open my eyes, that I may see, Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp and set me free. 2.Open my ears, that I may hear voices of truth Thou sendest clear; And while the wave notes fall on my ear, everything false will disappear. 3. Open my mind, that I may read, More of Thy love in word and deed; What shall I fear while yet Thou dost lead? Only for light from Thee I plead. 4.Open my mouth, and let me bear, gladly the warm truth everywhere; Open my heart and let me prepare Love with Thy children thus to share.