We seem to have an infatuation with arguing with one another online. All of us. Not all the time. Most of the people I know don't like arguing online, and try to avoid it. Yet even they have hot-button issues that get them commenting, trying to politely knock sense into others.
We don't call it arguing, usually--it's too nice for that. Discussion, that's what it is. Discussion.
The problem with being online is that it's like being in everybody's heads all the time. You hear all their thoughts, even the ones they normally wouldn't say around you because they know you disagree with each other, so what's the point of talking about it.
Friendship is always based on something. Rarely is it based on everything in our lives. It's usually based on a mutual interest or shared opinion. We find other things in common that deepen our relationship. But we never agree on everything. Nobody in the world perfectly agrees with another human being.
So we inevitably clash. We gently try to talk about it. Sometimes the conversations are productive. We give each other food for thought. Someone changes their mind. Both of you become less ignorant. All of these are happy possibilities from friendly discussion.
Sometimes you just can't see eye to eye. And sometimes, it's on an issue that you can't put down. "How could you not vaccinate your children? Your actions could result in the deaths of other children besides your own!" "How could you not believe abortion is wrong? It results in the death of a person!"
You will never change your mind. Neither will they. And the issue is too big and important for one or both of you to ignore.
That doesn't mean you have to keep discussing it.
Frequently I hear the argument, "If we discuss it, we'll find the truth." Will you? When the atmosphere is emotionally charged, when people are thinking with their hearts as well as their heads, when everyone has a personal stake in the discussion--will you really find truth?
Truth can only be found when the two people talking value each other more than right answers. An argument that only seeks resolution will use any means to get there. In my experience, truth--true truth, the Truth--must stand up not only to intellectual scrutiny but also practical application. If it does not help me love my neighbor more, then there's something wrong.
The fact is, words can be twisted. Hearts can be hardened. Ideas can be scrambled. The only way to keep this from happening is to have an open mind. The only sure way I've found of keeping an open mind is to love and respect--truly respect--my friend and their opinions. I must have reverence for their thought process and experience, and understand that they and I are equals: equally flawed, equally enlightened.*
Only when we love someone, and trust that they love us in return, will we internalize their words and let them change us. That's why argument alone will never change lives. Love, and love alone, changes people.
It comes down to the old saying: cooler heads prevail. If only hotter heads could recognize it.
Word count: 535.
* Not all Christians would agree on the equally-enlightened part. Despite many Christians' disdain for over-intellectualism, we steal directly from scholarly culture in how we rank each other. We talk about people being "further along in the faith." Yet this idea that those who've "been through more" are somehow closer to God does not stand up. Often it's children, the disabled, and the marginalized who have the greatest wisdom and greatest insight into God. He made it that way. Jesus said that we needed to be like children, yet we still persist in believing that we can, by experience, become more enlightened than our neighbor. If that were true, children, who have lived so much less time than their elders and have far less experience, would not have been Jesus' model. So let's be careful before we start judging the value of people's opinions based on human standards of wisdom and experience.