Check your pulse! One of the first things my father-in-law explained to me about working in construction was- in an emergency, don’t do anything before stopping to check your own pulse. The principle here, of taking one second for reflection before doing something that could possibly kill you (or someone else) applies in all sorts of situations.
In the Heat of the Moment
Have you ever thought that our various communities handle some controversies like a collection of feisty eight-year-olds? We have an alarming inability to effectively argue… about anything! The brief but important question we should all ask ourselves before engaging others on weighty matters is, “What if I checked my pulse before launching this attack? What if we took an extra four seconds to think before we ‘stick it’ to that moron on Facebook?” Here are three things we must remember to stop and ask ourselves:
- Why am I engaging this person? Do I want to inform this person or persuade them to understand and accept my position? Am I seeking to persuade the audience of the discussion? Or do I wish simply to show everyone how goofy this person is? Deciding this in advance will direct how we argue. Our ‘why’ gives shape to our ‘how’.
- Are we arguing to discover and embrace truth? In the classical Socratic tradition, the interlocutors (in their very roundabout way) were aiming to discover the truth through a process of presentation, critique, refinement, etc. With Socratic humility we could seek to put forth our ideas with a view to actually seeing how well they hold up in an argument. We may actually learn something we didn’t know!
- Am I arguing in the spirit of Romans 12:18? Paul encouraged the church at Rome: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” I’m aware that there are large pockets of our culture that find it offensive to disagree with someone. But notice the qualifiers that Paul provides: “if possible”, and “so far as it depends on you”. Christians have a sacred responsibility to speak the truth and to do so with an earnest desire to maintain peace if at all possible. Even a precursory reading of Acts will show men and women committed to the bold exclamation of (carefully argued) truth in the spirit of meekness.
Walking before we run
I want to get to discussing the weightiest matters that face us in our current situation. Trust me. I really do. Before we go there, however, we would do well to check ourselves and examine what it is exactly that we want to accomplish. I’ve heard many times that ‘those people’ who defend [enter controversial item here] will absolutely not listen. This may be the case. I’ve made this complaint myself. In my own case, at least, I wonder if this statement is used to cover up a lack of effort at arguing well, presenting my opposition fairly, and understanding them clearly. How often do I remember that “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1)? Let’s form a culture of men and women who reason clearly, cogently, and winsomely. What are your thoughts on how to interact with those with whom you have significant differences? Do you think that, in the end, the manner in which we argue will really matter? Comments are welcome!