Disagreeing . . . Nicely

Prior to an event I was among a crowd talking about their favorite book at the moment. Inevitably a certain book comes up and one if not two or three people laud it as a masterpiece. They were clearly impressed by the style and the claims of the book. I on the other hand knew they were wrong. Well, saying that I “knew” is perhaps going a bit far, but I had plenty of evidence to support my side of the issue.

Now, after I stop coughing and gagging from hearing the said book praised beyond its merit, I am faced with a dilemna.

1. Do I proceed to unveil my evidence that refutes the books tenuous status as “masterpiece”? The direct approach.
2. Do I take a subtle shot at it while praising the parts of it that are worthy of mention? Vaguely diplomatic
3. Do I keep my mouth shut? Non-confrontational

As an English major and lover of language and literature, it’s a real struggle. I want to praise the best works of literature and make sure that others are familiar with them. It galls me to see a popular page-turner inhabit a place that should be reserved for other works. The page-turner has its place and should be praised for its excellent qualities as a page-turner, but literature? I think not.

And while I am talking about a real situation with a book here, my little quandry over a book is also a parable of sorts for Christianity, doctrine, and discussion. Christian A thinks that the resurrectionof Jesus is optional. Christian B thinks that it is essential for Christians to believe in the resurrection. What is the best path to take?

Much depends on the nature of the relationship, the situation, and the medium of communication. Too often I am tempted to jump right in and offer a rebuttal without considering these factors. Too often I back down when I should speak up.

On the internet it is tempting to approach a “conversation” over e-mail, discussion board, or blog comments in a very formal fasion, as if writing a persuasive paper. But perhaps the best way to approach these discussions is “writing as if you are talking.” In a group of people one must consider the factors of who else is present, how far you need to go into the disagreed topic, and what would be respectful to the other person.

I’m not sure where I’m heading with all of this, only that I sense my own tendencies to jump into a debate without considering those present and the impact that my own views will have. Sometimes it helps to just step back and look at the way we go about communicating, debating and disagreeing with one another.