|Just because people can't see you doesn't mean you can be mean.|
If you don't want to take the time to read through all of that post, I'll fill you in on the big ideas that allow me to have a congenial, thoughtful dialog about a divisive issue.
- Ask questions. Statements don't invite dialog. Questions do. Jesus was a big fan of asking questions and inviting people into dialog. It's a powerful way to invite everyone to share and work through an issue.
- Ask real questions. Very often people will make positional statements (I believe x), which doesn't help dialog. But just slapping a question mark at the end of the sentence doesn't make it a real question. It can be a loaded question that doesn't really invite dialog.
- Loaded Question: "Why do you think gay marriage is wrong?"
- Real Question: "How is marriage understood in the bible?"
- Get to the root of the issue. Typically fights are about positions that people have taken on an issue. Think of it as the difference between a symptom and a cause. You're trying to get to the root cause instead of just working on the level of symptoms. This will take some work on your part to step back through the thought processes and find the kernel of the debate.
- Symptom Question: "Why would you vote/not vote to legalize gay marriage?"
- Cause Question: "If there's a separation between church and state, should the laws reflect Christian principles?"
- Listen. You probably have an opinion on the question you're asking (you probably have strong opinions on some of the sample questions I posted here), but that doesn't mean you have to share it right away. You can wait to let others respond before you jump in with your thoughts. As soon as you attempt to answer the question, everyone else will feel like the conversation is over. Sit back and see how the conversation develops.
- Play nice. Name calling, belittling, defamation, and all kinds of insults will destroy conversation. But, so will refereeing every little quip and remark. I try to find a balance between holding people to a high standard of personal interaction and letting people freely discuss. In general, I'd say that the line is any statement that explicitly or implicitly devalues the ability of someone to have a valid opinion. Nothing will kill a conversation more quickly than the idea that the opposition is mentally deficient. If that happens, I step in and correct the misapprehension.
Using this process, I've been able to have thoughtful conversations about abortion, gay marriage, just war, healthcare, the problem of pain, and numerous other topics. I'm better for it, and I think my friends are better for it.
What have I left out of this list? What works for you?