• Timothy Jemly

Can we disagree?

My grandparents were married for over fifty years and often bragged that they’d never had an argument. Some might find this claim incredulous, but if they knew my grandparents they would understand. My grandfather is one of the most quiet and meek individuals I have ever met. My grandmother was a very opinionated and forceful woman. My grandfather subscribed to the theory that the secret to a successful relationship is two words–yes dear.

When my grandmother passed away my grandfather was completely lost. He said, “I don’t know what to wear. She told me what I should wear every day. I don’t know what to do. She made my to do list every day.” His identity had basically become an extension of hers, and when she died, he was completely lost. Long before she died however, he had robbed my grandmother, and the rest of us, of his presence by allowing his will to be supplanted by hers.

Many people believe that agreeing on everything and having common interests are the foundations for great friendships. The truth is, it is our differences that bring the richness and flavor to our relationships. Imagine if we were all exactly the same—we enjoyed the same activities, thought the same way, and believed the same things. There’d be no reason to talk, we’d already know what the other person was going to say because they think the same way as us.

I had a girlfriend once who started saying derogatory things to me. She insulted me in front of others and said things that were downright mean. I thought she was just having a bad day and ignored it. But this pattern continued for a few weeks until I finally confronted her about it. I said: “what’s going on? Are you mad at me for something? Why are you treating me this way?” She responded that she was upset with me because I wouldn’t argue with her. She told me that if I cared about her, I would argue with her. I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard, but I’ve since come to understand what she was saying. I wasn’t trusting her enough to speak up when I disagreed with her, I was falling into the pattern of my grandfather. When she upped the anti by directly insulting me, my silence unintentionally showed that I really didn’t care what she thought of me. I was essentially saying this relationship isn’t worth fighting for.

I don’t recommend her tactics, but I am thankful for the lesson I learned—being honest with my genuine feelings and opinions even when I disagree with someone I care about is foundational to any relationship. One of my favorite quotes is “The conversation is the relationship.” All our friendships are built through conversations — sharing who we are and listening deeply to others. One of the most important relationship skills to learn is how to disagree in a way that builds up rather than tears down.

We live in a world that is becoming more and more polarized. People don’t only disagree but they do it in ways that destroy relationships. I know people who have stopped attending church because they disagree with the political viewpoints of someone else at church. More and more I see people on social media and in real life demonizing those who they disagree with. They paint those who have different viewpoints from them as evil. This only waters the bitter weeds of resentment, bitterness and hatred. It is time for the church to lead the way in showing others how to disagree and still maintain the relationship. We can’t be more concerned about being right than we are about being loving. The greatest commandment is love. Let’s love each other and our world well!

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