One of the perspectives I seek out in counseling is what I call “continuum thinking”. It is my resistance to all or nothing, either/or, polarized viewpoints.
This morning I was thinking about what annoys me so much about a lot of the discourse that takes place on social media, other public or private settings and with couples on the counseling couch. And it is this: the vehemence with which some people will hold their opinions. I have been guilty of this, and if you are honest, you probably have been too.
The continuum I am referring to in this case is based on the intensity that is exhibited during one of these “discussions”.
Disagreeing ____________________ Argumentative _____________________ Abusive
I would judge the level of maturity as declining from left to right on the above chart.
I have observed that people will often hold their opinion as “Truth or Fact” when it is simply their perspective, or they are repeating someone else’s. There is objective truth, but our emotional connection to certain issues will sometimes confuse or blindside us. We must be very careful that we hold our opinions gently so that we do not create relational distance and chaos.
When it comes to social media, there is a lot of hearsay, as well as sound bites that are taken out of context. We can become victim to these repetitions and become part of the problem if we are not careful. Once we put our words out there, they are hard or impossible to retract. They might follow us around for a long time after our opinion has changed. I would ask you to consider carefully before posting anything in anger or haste.
Nan and I have both experienced people that have not been able to accurately place their behavior on the above chart. I have seen some believe they are disagreeing when they are really being very abusive – and others who will label their partners as abusive when they are really just not agreeing with them. This is one of the reasons why an outside perspective can be so helpful. The way a person sees things can be a huge blindspot. We need others to lovingly confront us at times. And it should be our goal to lovingly present our disagreements to others.
Power and Responsibility
There are those who believe that they have a right to express themselves to others anytime they desire. It may be true that they have the ability or power to do that, but I would suggest that along with that power comes responsibility. That responsibility is to keep the positive goal in mind. It is very unlikely that someone will be convinced by negative, argumentative, defensive or hostile communication. Rather they will probably withdraw or become more resistant. If your need is to be heard, then process your feelings alone until you can present them in a receivable way.
I’m feeling pretty passionate about this right now because I have seen some real relational ruptures lately. Friends turn on one another, people leave the church, and couples split up. When this happens we have not displayed the kind of unity that Christ has called us to as a believing body. We have let politics, social issues and specific theologies divide us from our ultimate purpose. How would you respond?