Most Christians believe in speaking the truth in love. We like the idea of love in all areas, but we’re not going to bring it to certain conversations. It’s like we get this selective moral amnesia: we’ll argue for morality, while leaving morality behind in the way we treat those with whom we disagree.
Jesus told us that as the end of time draws nearer, the love of many will grow cold. But He also exhorted us to endure in love. He knew that nobody forgets their opinions, but we do forget to bring love out of the dark corners of our hearts and into our conversations. So in light of that exhortation, let me share six principles of loving communication.
AFFIRM WHERE YOU CAN
If we want to have a constructive, helpful discussion about anything with a person of opposite opinion, we have to learn to find common ground. People listen and can become quite open to critique when they feel understood. We can do this by finding points of agreement wherever we can. We already know what divides us. Let’s also remember what connects us.
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND, NOT TO RESPOND
We all know listening is important, but usually what we call listening is only us waiting for our turn to talk. Real listening means keeping our mouths shut, resisting the urge to interrupt, and thinking about what people are actually saying. By truly listening, we can learn new things about the opposing side’s view and also help the person we’re talking with feel safe and more willing to hear what we have to say.
MAYBE DON’T RESPOND
When we’re talking about something controversial, sometimes the best thing to do is not to share our opinion at all. We become the most teachable when we feel the most loved, and people feel loved when they feel heard. So sometimes the best thing to do is let someone share their point of view and save our opinion for another day.
DON’T BE RUDE, SARCASTIC, OR ARGUMENTATIVE
We live in a society that values comebacks and clapbacks over kindness and courtesy. We applaud the guy with the last word. But as author Bob Goff puts it: “No one has ever been argued into a change of heart.” The moment a conversation turns argumentative or we start making fun at the expense of someone’s ideals or values, the chances of actually convincing them of the validity of our view drops drastically.
GIVE MORE GRACE THAN EVER WHEN COMMUNICATING ONLINE
In addition to not being mean when communicating online, we need to be intentional about giving lots of grace, both when writing our own posts and when interpreting others’. Let’s be kinder and more understanding than we think we need to be, especially online.
COME WITH HUMILITY AND EMPATHY
The bus driver who worked for the boarding academy I attended once said in a worship talk, “We sin the most when we’re right.” As we talk with others, let’s be humble. It is possible to be wrong. We can make an idol out of our own rightness, and when we do, we start treating each other horribly. Let’s not make an idol out of our certainty.
Even if someone is wrong (because there are absolute truths), believe the best about their heart. Remember it’s possible for someone to have pure motives and make wrong conclusions. But shaming them for those conclusions won’t help correct them.