How to speak out—without losing all of your friends

Full disclosure: I am wary of offering this advice (for lack of a better word) because I am far from perfect, and I am afraid someone will show me examples of all the times I’ve failed to follow my own guidelines. Offering opinions is a difficult thing to do, especially now with the heightened emotions ...

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Full disclosure: I am wary of offering this advice (for lack of a better word) because I am far from perfect, and I am afraid someone will show me examples of all the times I’ve failed to follow my own guidelines. Offering opinions is a difficult thing to do, especially now with the heightened emotions and the overall weariness people feel for politics and current events. But if you follow me on social media, you probably know that I keep speaking out.

I’ve probably inadvertently offended people along the way, in spite of my good intentions. Through it all, though, I have followed some pretty strict guidelines for my own behavior. I have intentionally worked to keep my comments aboveboard and kind, and I think it is paying off. I keep hearing from people who thank me because even though I disagree with them, I do so with kindness. People have told me thanks for being brave enough to say things they’re afraid to. For not backing down but not being mean. I’ve even been praised for showing restraint. Well, the last one might be a stretch, but I do feel passionately about things and I’m not afraid to speak up when I feel the whole truth isn’t being told—it’s not so much about changing people’s minds as it is that I don’t want people to be unaware, blindly aligning themselves with a position based on in accuracies. Or ignoring a critical component that could change their point of view.

So, keeping in mind that I have certainly failed at times, and that there are other ways to accomplish the same goals, I thought I’d share some of my personal guidelines with you.

Always start with empathy. There is likely a reason for someone’s passion—maybe their child had an abortion and then couldn’t have children, and they mourn the loss of grandchildren, so the idea of someone being pro-choice is abhorrent to them. Maybe someone was sexually abused and they’ll never stop fighting for people to stop blaming the victim. Perhaps they have a friend who is at risk of deportation, and although she came to this country illegally, they don’t want to see her family’s lives disrupted because of the good they’ve also done here. Try to figure out, when possible, what’s below the surface, and give people the benefit of the doubt that they have reason for their passion. Always acknowledge the validity of someone else’s perspective, if you can, or at least their right to believe what they believe. (This means not adding a dig like “you can believe lies if you want.”)

Find common ground. In order to come to a mutual conclusion, we must build it on the same foundation. Granted, that isn’t always possible. But chances are we agree on something. For instance, one day I talked to a super-conservative friend of mine about politics. He and I have always good-naturedly disagreed on all things political. But when I started asking questions—why does this matter to you, how do you think we should accomplish that—I discovered that in most cases we agree on the desired result. We simply disagree on things like whether it’s already being accomplished or not, or who should pay for it, or which way we lean regarding when we’ve done enough and when we’ve enabled less-than-ideal behavior. Seeing that helps me understand his perspective, which makes it feel less personal and offensive. Even if I still disagree.

Say we, not you. This isn’t always appropriate, but if I say, “You don’t pray as often as you should,” it’s an accusation. If I say, “We don’t pray as often as we should,” I’ve included myself, and it becomes more of an observation than a condemnation, bringing people along with me rather than separating myself from them. As I said in the previous point, look for commonalities, not differences. When you can start there—using we, not you—you’re in a good spot.

Stick to the issues. I’ve watched—and I’m sure you have, too—countless arguments online, which quickly devolve from “I see it differently” to “that’s what’s wrong with people like you” to “you are ignorant and stupid.” And from there it just gets uglier and uglier. When someone is attacked or called names, sparks are going to fly. Don’t get derailed. If you’re discussing one thing, stick to that one thing and don’t bring up what someone said or did twenty years ago or every single thing they’ve ever done wrong. It hurts your argument and ensures that they won’t listen.

Know what you want to speak about, what is off-limits, and when to speak. I’m not afraid to say so when a political position does not match the way I read the Bible. I won’t hesitate to offer an alternative point of view when I think I have a fact or insight that might help another. But when I read earlier comments on a post and see that people are getting ugly, or when the conversation turns to something controversial that I’m not comfortable taking a public stance on, I let it go. I try hard not to simply add fuel to the fire. If I don’t have something new to say, I may not say anything. If I know a person’s friends will start a big firestorm in response to my comment, I might send an explanation in a private message to someone who gets me. There may not be a need to say those same words to everyone. However, there have been times when I defended someone, fully aware that what I said would not change the mind of the original poster but might influence others who read it. (Don’t deceive yourself—people are reading. And watching. And wanting to see the best from those of us who call ourselves Christians, even if they’re not Christians. They often don’t see it; what we say and do matters more than you know.)

Don’t stereotype. See the point above about sticking to the issues. When you tell someone they’re part of a bigger group and then say that group is ignorant (or racist or sexist or whatever it is), you’ll offend that individual. I know from personal experience that it’s hard not to take these comments personally, whether they’re meant that way or not. So just remember that when you lump everyone into one category, you’re denying the truth that there are countless nuances of belief and feelings and that there are other factors you may not have considered—which makes it an unfair assessment. It kind of pains me to say this J… but not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or misogynist. It took me a while to figure this out (I offer a blanket apology to all Trump supporters for this) because those were aspects that I could not see past. My first instinct was to think that because the racist or sexist comments and actions didn’t turn them against him, they must be for that. But the reality is, in many cases, there was something about Hillary they couldn’t get past or else they simply believe more in the traditional Republican platform. Every person’s opinion is a result of numerous value judgments (which issues they are passionate about—and why), so everyone will come to a different conclusion. It doesn’t make them bad people.

If you don’t know something, admit it. Don’t keep arguing when you haven’t read the article in question or you are basing your opinions on someone else’s comments—or you truly just don’t know details. The quickest way to defuse an argument is to say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or, “I know my logic may not make sense to you, but based on what I know, this is where I land.” Lots of the anger out there stems from people professing great insights when it’s clear to others that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Along the same lines, recognize flaws in your arguments or in the actions of fellow supporters. Admitting that there are aspects of an issue you do not support—or that the behavior of others supporting your cause doesn’t line up with what you believe—doesn’t undermine your position but makes it more credible. And opens the door for others to think, hey, maybe I can support this after all. (For instance, I’m a Christian, but some behavior I see feels inconsistent with Christian values. If I refuse to acknowledge that, non-Christians may judge all of Christianity—and me—and not want any part of it. If I admit that I, too, see what is obvious to them, and do it with the least amount of judgment possible, I’m showing people that you don’t have to take the whole package. You can love Christ without doing ___ (fill-in-the-blank). Because the reality I want people to see is that the authentic Jesus, and genuine faith, are so good that it’s worth fighting for—even if the way others do it isn’t always perfect.)

Know that it won’t always be easy and you won’t always be popular. I act like it’s simple, but it’s not. Every comment I make requires careful consideration—and prayer, and wisdom, and discernment. I don’t want to upset people, nor do I like to be attacked. As hard as I try not to, I often take things personally. It hurts and it’s not fun. But when I can look back at my own behavior and feel relatively confident that it is consistent with my personal ethics, that it is done with respect and kindness, and that I have spent my time on issues and positions that are important to me, I see that as a win.

You may have found different ways to navigate these waters. I would love to hear them. I love stories about lessening the divide between people, about bridges that help people cross an intimidating chasm. I love seeing how God can be revealed in surprising places, how relationships can be strengthened through respect, and how we can love each other better through understanding and empathy. I want to maintain the right to speak my opinion and not cause others to feel silenced.

I just want us all to be friends :-). If you’re still reading this, we must be—so thank you.

Perfectly formed (guest post from Courtney Westlake)

When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off. At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t ...

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When my daughter was first born, I thought they just needed to wipe her off.

At first glance, she seemed to be covered with a thick coating of white, causing confusion and near-panic with the medical staff in the room. It soon became clear that the towel the nurse was using to clean her wouldn’t alleviate anyone’s concerns.

Because the white covering was her skin.

Our daughter Brenna (our second child and sister to our now five-year-old son Connor) was born in 2011 with a very severe, very rare genetic skin condition called Harlequin Ichthyosis (har-le-kwin ick-thee-oh-sis).

This severe disorder means that Brenna’s body has trouble with things like regulating her body temperature – she can’t even sweat – and keeping bacteria out, so she can get skin infections easily. It also means that her body produces skin about 10 times too fast, leaving her with very dry, peeling skin that looks like a sunburn all over her body.

Brenna’s condition affects our lives very profoundly every day and has caused the last three years to be filled with surgeries, doctor and therapy appointments, and a lot of health issues. But my husband, Evan, and I have never questioned why – we have believed from the very beginning in God’s plan for Brenna’s life.

We are often asked what is “wrong” with Brenna, with her skin or her face. But to be wrong is to be mistaken… and I don’t believe that mistakes happen with our awesome God.

When Brenna was just a few days old, critically ill in the neonatal intensive care unit, a family member came to us and said: “I haven’t talked to God in years… but I’ve been praying for Brenna.”

It was in that moment that I was assured that God had an extraordinary purpose for her life, and that he was bringing his children closer to him through our daughter and working through her to reach the hearts of others.

And, as I soon discovered, God was also working through me, by giving me the courage to stand up and say that my daughter is not wrong, she is beautiful.

God has given us the courage to find the beauty in this life, not the tragedy. We believe whole-heartedly that Brenna was given to us uniquely and beautifully created by God, not that she was given to us broken.

Within this, we are learning every day how to discover the beauty in the different and the unexpected. Where society often mocks different, we have found God’s beautiful creation in our differences and are learning to glorify his awesomeness through our distinct personalities, talents, and yes, appearances.

And yet, as we learn to appreciate and to celebrate our differences – our own and each other’s – it also serves as a great reminder that the God who created each of us with unique purpose and talents also created us with a likeness in his image.

We are different, and we are the same – none of us perfect, but formed purposely by a perfect Creator. And there is nothing wrong about that.

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To read more of Brenna and Courtney’s story, visit her blog at www.blessedbybrenna.com.

The word I’m tired of hearing

I’ve been scrolling through social media, deeply disturbed by much of what I’ve read—even the opinions of people who are kind and generous, even the ones with whom I agree. I finally figured out why. Because there is one word that I hear over and over, and it doesn’t belong at all: BUT. And it ...

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GRAPHIC Colossians 3-14

I’ve been scrolling through social media, deeply disturbed by much of what I’ve read—even the opinions of people who are kind and generous, even the ones with whom I agree. I finally figured out why.

Because there is one word that I hear over and over, and it doesn’t belong at all: BUT.

And it makes me tired of the whole discussion.

Don’t get me wrong. We NEED to talk.

But not in the same way we have been.

Somehow our country has gone from united to divided. Every single issue has become us vs. them. We can no longer offer an opinion without tacking on a judgment. We hear things like this: I think gay people should have rights, BUT I think homosexuality is a sin. I do not discriminate BUT I am not responsible for what happens. I like him BUT he is a Muslim. I thought she was a Christian BUT she voted for Obama.

I think the BUT needs to go away.

When did we as a country decide that it’s not just okay but expected to contribute our own personal judgment or assessment of every issue? Not all that long ago people could be friends with those with different faiths. Respect the office of President of the US, even of an opposing political party, without agreeing with the policies or actions of the person holding the office. Disagree on opinions yet still have civil conversations. Hold an open-minded dialog to gather information in order to make informed decisions. But now, particularly through our friends on social media, we insulate ourselves, surrounding ourselves with those who have like-minded views. As soon as the opinions diverge, we click unfriend.

We use people’s views as a way to classify them. Are they a Christian? A Muslim? An atheist? Are they LGBTQ or straight? Are they black or white? Democrat or Republican? As soon as we can classify them into a category that we are not in, we disregard what they have to say.

I don’t understand the prevalent mentality in which we post things to defend our own point of view—not to enlighten others but to use as a trump card. Ha! They agree with me! Take that! I’m not going to cheer when the witty Christian outsmarts the atheist or despair when science diverges from my faith. I’m not going to buy into the concept that being a follower of Jesus dictates which political party I must support. I’m not going to let myself be categorized according to just one aspect of who I am, and I’m going to try very hard not to do that to someone else.

Don’t get me wrong. I have strong opinions and I’m not afraid to share them, and I’ve lost a few blog followers as a result. I do want to know where you’re coming from—not as a way to categorize you but as a way to ground what you’re about to say. I enjoy debate, but I try not to engage those who I sense will not be respectful or kind. I try to be careful about when and how to have those discussions, because I think they are important and I want to treat them respectfully—and because in the last few years I’ve found myself going to great lengths to avoid drama.

And right now what I feel is that nobody is listening. I don’t want to talk when I have to shout to be heard. When each comment sparks a venomous attack. When every single topic comes down to an immediate assessment regarding whose side the speaker is on—ours or theirs.

God calls us to unity. Every single classification or difference, every battle, every tragedy or triumph seems to further fragment us—as a country, as a community, as a church.

To be frank, when a discussion comes down to us vs. them, it’s probably not going to be very productive. It is only when we realize that we are all in this together, only when we strive to improve life for all of us as a whole, only when we are willing to offer respect and dignity and compassion and understanding in equal measure to what we expect to receive, that any of this talking is going to do any good for anyone.

So for now, I’m remaining quiet on the big things happening in the world around me, but it’s not because I don’t care. It’s because I don’t know the answers and I don’t want to add fuel to the fire. Instead, I’m adopting these words from the Bible as my prayer and my hope. Will you join me?

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17, NIV

Amen.

Do you see what I see? No? Good.

Don’t worry. This post isn’t about The Dress. Well, not really. As a graphic designer, I pride myself on how I perceive color, on noticing the nuances of hues and shades and being able to describe them to my clients. So I confess that this has been kind of hard on me. One, I like ...

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Don’t worry. This post isn’t about The Dress. Well, not really.

As a graphic designer, I pride myself on how I perceive color, on noticing the nuances of hues and shades and being able to describe them to my clients. So I confess that this has been kind of hard on me. One, I like to be right, and I still disagree with some of the conclusions regarding what the dress actually looks like. And two, I’ve always been adamant that I am a really good judge of color. I can see a paint chip once, and weeks later at Target pick up a throw pillow or vase that matches perfectly. One year I got a sweater for Christmas, and without having it with me, bought a pair of leggings the exact color as the sweater. I notice when there’s a little more blue in this green than in this one, or when the red contains a smidge of yellow.

When clients don’t see the same thing I do, at times I get a little bit of an attitude. Because it’s soooo clear to me, and I don’t know how they can’t see it. (And I may have mentioned that I like to be right.)

But this (somewhat annoying) dress debate has taught me something. There may be reasons I’d never considered for why someone else might see a specific situation in a different way than I do. Something that isn’t readily apparent. Something hidden. Unseen, if you will.

It’s not really about being right or wrong, no matter how much you want your perspective to be true. I’ve heard from many Christians “we believe the Truth.” “We only teach the Bible’s Truth.” And they mean it. I’ve been known to say the same thing, and I mean it too.

But my truth may look slightly different than yours, even when we’re both looking at the same picture. I see a light bluish-lavender color, which I assume is a white dress in cool wintry shadows (like the color of shadows striping an Indiana snowy landscape)—while you see blue.

Our culture has been edging more and more to extremes. There’s little middle ground, and practically no tolerance for different opinions. If nothing else, the dress has shown us that. And within the Christian culture, it seems that differences in worship or interpretation or practice have polarized us, rather than pulling us together.

And yet we’re all striving to see the same truth. To discover it, apply it, and live it.

But while I may read the Bible and note that Jesus drank wine—and therefore decide that wine should be used for communion, another person serves grape juice because they want to cause no man to stumble. And another may say somewhere in the middle is more accurate, because the wine in Jesus’ day wasn’t as strong as ours, so really if we’re wanting to follow Jesus, we should mix water with the wine.

I know there are bigger issues than this, and I personally don’t think this one is that important. Because we’re all trying to follow His directive to do this in remembrance of Him. To honor Him. And in my deepest self I believe God honors all of our intentions.

I do hope the discussion about the dress ends soon, but even more, I hope we walk away from it having learned something. Maybe when someone disagrees with me, or sees a situation differently or draws an alternate conclusion than I do, I have to consider that there’s more to it than meets the eye. It might be that their life experience has given them a different outlook. Perhaps they bring assumptions and biases to their interpretation of an event. Quite possibly, they’ve been hurt by someone using similar words as I am, by a church experience with imperfect people or leaders. Or maybe God reveals Himself in a different way to that person than He does to me.

It doesn’t mean my God has changed or that we serve different gods. Just that He created us as individuals. He speaks to us in a variety of ways.

Maybe we need to allow ourselves to be open to the possibility that neither of us is wrong.

And embrace the fact that we’re all just made a little bit differently.

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