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.

Prayer for all of us during this election

Lord, I confess that this election season is the first time I’ve let other people’s stances on political issues change the way I feel about them. I used to pride myself on being open to other opinions, on looking for similarities rather than differences. On my ability to separate someone’s opinion from who they are. I ...

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Lord, I confess that this election season is the first time I’ve let other people’s stances on political issues change the way I feel about them. I used to pride myself on being open to other opinions, on looking for similarities rather than differences. On my ability to separate someone’s opinion from who they are.

I don’t like being this way. I am critical. Judgmental. And, honestly, perpetually shocked by the perspectives I see and hear, in person and on social media. It’s ugly.

I have tried to understand where others are coming from and justify their points of view. I have attempted to initiate discussions to understand why they feel the way they do. I honestly don’t understand how, on certain issues, they cannot see what I do. I feel like it’s become us versus them—but I don’t like thinking of any group of people as them, as the other. We’re supposed to be in this together. When did we forget that?

I’ve tried to be smart about when to speak up and when not to. To discern when my opinions will be treated with respect and when I would simply be stirring the pot.

But all I can seem to do is stir the pot. Whether I’m trying to or not.

I don’t want to cause trouble and division and unrest. But, honestly, part of me feels as though “they” are so misguided that it’s my responsibility to speak some truth. To call out hatred and ugliness and ideas and statistics that have been shown to be incorrect. To defend my religion when I see people claiming to follow You but acting nothing like You. To help right some of the many wrongs I see. To take steps towards mending the extreme rift that has grown in our country, separating and dividing us, pulling us apart instead of together.

I’m in a perpetually bad mood. I’m weary and frustrated, and I’m feeling hopeless, and I’ve let it affect me. Am I so determined to be right that I’ve forgotten basic human decency?

It comes down to this: I am genuinely frightened for our country. I am afraid that this election will forever change who we are as a people and that we won’t be able to come back together and heal. I am terrified that this atmosphere of division and distrust and disregard for truth will become the norm. And I don’t know if I can live with that.

I genuinely don’t know what to do with that.

So, at long last, I’m doing what I should have done all along—I’m coming to You, God. I’m begging for Your mercy. I’m asking for Your forgiveness. I’m longing for Your wisdom.

Give me the humility to realize that while I pray this about my friends, probably some of them are praying this about me. This isn’t my problem or their problem; it is ours.

You are defined by Your love for people. All people. You loved us before we came to You. You love us even while we sin. You never give up. You don’t withhold Yourself when we act stupidly, but gently correct us.

Will You do that now? Will You speak to our hearts—all of us—and show us what matters?

Will You help me to love people whose opinions drastically diverge from my own?

Will You remind me that we are multi-faceted creatures who should not be defined by one thing?

Will You help us to listen to each other’s stories and hurts and experiences with compassion, not defensiveness or anger?

Will You help us, as Christians, act according to Your teachings? Will You show us how to live lives worthy of this calling? Will You help us accept those who are different from us and, most of all, would You let others see You in the way we love people? Would You help us to be upright, godly witnesses and share love, not hate? Unity, not division? Peace, not strife?

Will You help each of us look at the issues clearly, not through our existing lenses of bias? Will You help us land on the opinions that most closely align with Your standards? Will You release us from an attitude of judgment and condemnation and make us free to love?

Will You heal us? Forgive us? Lead us?

Because one truth that keeps getting lost in all the turmoil is this: You are our leader. You are the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and that is never affected in the slightest by who holds the title of President. Your reign is without end. Your glory is without limits. Your uprightness cannot be questioned. Your compassion and inclusion are legendary. Your love is limitless. You never mistreat anyone. You don’t rejoice in wrongdoing and in false accusations. Unlike our candidates, You are not flawed. Your judgment is impeccable. Your every act is holy and righteous. You are so far above us that I have trouble believing You want anything to do with us.

But You do want us. Even though we don’t deserve it. Even though we act deplorably at times. Yes, we. Not just others, but me, too.

Help us rest in the security of Your love for us. Let us soak up Your grace and abide in peace. Let us see the value in each other.

Remind us that You are bigger than all of this. That You are in control and that You remain on the throne. That You already know what will happen, and that no matter what the outcome of the election is, You’ve got this.

You hold us in the palm of Your hand. And You don’t put Democrats in one hand and Republicans in the other. You don’t separate men/women. Or whites/blacks. Or gay/straight. Or Muslims/Christians. Or pro-choice/anti-abortion. Or liberal/conservative. In Your eyes, we are all the same in one critical respect: We belong to You. We are Yours.

Help us to act like it and let this reality finally transform our attitudes and behavior. 

Change us, Lord. Make us better than all of this. Make us more like You.

In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

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