HOW TO WIN AN ARGUMENT
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, get this straight. Every person should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Human anger, you see, doesn’t produce God’s justice! So put away everything that is sordid, all that overflowing malice, and humbly receive the word which has been planted within you and which has the power to rescue your lives.” James 1:19-21
Are you a louder shouter or a shutter downer?
We do it in our personal lives as well as our political lives, in an online argument or face to face. Some of us raise our voice and shout louder. Then we yell. Then we start the name calling. Sometimes the verbal violence is not enough and we start pushing or backing people into a corner, or wagging a condemning finger in each others faces and eventually going to blows. Does it work?
Some people find it works for them. They are bullies, intimidating the other side with their argument or their intensity. In a way, they “win”. The loser leaves feeling defeated, angry, and kicking themselves for not thinking to say this or that in the heat of the moment. But nothing really changes.
Some people don’t do conflict well so they stay quiet and try to stay out of it. Still nothing gets resolved this way. The bullies just get their way and the passive people just move on with their lives or stuff their rage deep inside until it blows up eventually.
What if there is a better way to win an argument?
There is. If you can master it, you will be a powerful person who makes the world a better place. Really! It’s pretty simple and it comes from the pen of Jesus’ brother. He didn’t believe in Jesus until after the resurrection. He mocked him and thought he was crazy. After the resurrection, he became a key leader in the Jerusalem church until he was unjustly arrested and executed by the authorities. He has credibility as someone who understands conflict. Here is his approach to any argument:
1. Be quick to listen.
What if you seek first to understand the other persons viewpoint? Resist the temptation to prove them wrong or make your argument. Suspend judgement for a while. Really try to hear their heart, fears and experiences. Ask questions. Seek clarification. Use active listening. Say, “What I hear you saying is X”. Allow them to clarify themselves. Of course you think you are right, but consider that the other person has a different experience. If we can learn to really listen to people, it will be a first step to healing our world.
2. Be slow to speak.
You have two ears and only one mouth. Listen at least twice as much as you speak. Don’t be in a hurry to get your point across. People will actually want to know what you have to say if you keep your mouth shut. My dad used to quote Abraham Lincoln to me, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” You don’t know all the facts, so ask questions of others and speak about your own experience. Danny Silk’s reminder that “You get to tell me about you and I get to tell you about me” comes to mind here as well. Don’t psychoanalyze people, make statements about what they think, how they feel or make assumptions about what their motives are.
3. Be slow to get angry.
James goes on to say that our anger doesn’t bring about God’s justice. It’s not that there isn’t a time to get angry. Some things should make us angry! But it should be more slow burn than violent explosion. As the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Ephesian church, we need to deal with it and be done with it before going to bed. Held anger festers and gives evil sanctuary within you. How do you think hateful people got that way? They took their anger to bed and now they’re married to it.
4. Purge the evil and hate from yourself.
You can’t get rid of the hate in the world, but you can get rid of it in yourself. And that’s a good start. If you want to change the world, you need to change you first. You can’t fix other people. You do, however, have the responsibility and opportunity to fix you. If you see racism in others, consider any subtle ways it may be in you. Repent of that. If you hate haters, repent of your hate. Confess it and get rid of it. If selfie culture makes you sick, repent of your own selfishness. If news bias makes you angry, confess your own biases. Purging your own evil or confessing it will change the tone of the argument.
5. Humbly receive grace (and you will give it)
The last point James makes is the one that makes it all possible. He says “humbly receive the implanted word which is able to save your life”. The “word” he is talking about is the message of God’s grace. Ultimately, Jesus was the embodiment of that message, but the message is that God has accepted us and offered peace to us as a free act of grace. Those who receive grace must live by it. That’s why Jesus said you can’t be forgiven if you don’t forgive. It just doesn’t work. When we are humble enough to admit that everything is gift, we stop trying to make others pay. We realize that we are all on the same team and we fight together against the evil problems rather than fighting against each other.
When we purge the evil from ourselves and live on the basis of grace, we will become slow to anger because that’s how God has been with us. Our approach to an argument will be different. We will be quick to listen and slow to speak. Let’s learn to see each other and hear each other and learn from each other and make the world a better place for all of us to live. Then we all win. TGR