“When you’re more concerned with winning the person than winning the argument, you know you have arrived.” I put the book down and marveled at the truth that was still echoing in my mind. Bill Self had been my pastor, and now, through his book Surviving the Stained Glass Jungle, he was continuing to shape my thinking. I had been wrong. For years as a teacher I had sought to understand the teenage mind of the students in my class, and I had assumed that I could logically persuade them to believe in the importance of what I was trying to teach them. For years I had failed. Mostly because they don’t think. They feel. And if it doesn’t feel fun, then it’s not really worth their time. I had been trying to win the argument, to lead them something instead of meeting them where they were. Don’t get me wrong. I got through to many of them, but it was the ones who came and left unchanged after an entire year in my class that drove me insane. I should have tried to win them instead of the argument.
It’s easy to look at a younger generation and think how “naive” they are. But really they’re us. Really we are all shaped by the same emotional distractions as they are. Some of us get better at processing it, but deep down we are all heavily emotional creatures. So what do we do? We pick our battles. We calculate (consciously or not) which ones we can win, and we fight! And those battles deemed as too hard, we give up and bottle up. We learn to keep our mouth shut. But the absence of a fight is not really peace. If we still harbor ill feelings and never express them, then we have chosen harmony over health. We’ve become “peace-mongers” as Bolsinger says in Canoeing the Mountains.
If we only learn to silence the complainers in our lives, we’ve created a “cheap” version of peace. If we only learn to silence our own opinions for the sake of avoiding disagreement, we’ve created a “cheap” version of peace. It’s a recipe for anxiety (we’ll always be worried about when the complainers will “blow up” at us again). It’s a path that leads to unhealthy self-denial (if you don’t stay true to yourself, eventually you sacrifice your integrity in the name of “peace,” or you forget who you are entirely).
In order to create beloved community in our circles of influence, we must learn how to disagree without disengaging. Too many people cut themselves off at the first sign of trouble, but real community is formed in facing challenges together, and any relationship involves a certain amount of sacrifice, a certain amount of give and take. It seems like you can either be right all the time, or you can have a good relationship with people. We think of Jesus as the “Prince of Peace,” but he didn’t get there by agreeing with everyone or by rigidly following the letter of the Law.
So when you feel those emotions starting to trump your reason, don’t check out, don’t give up, and don’t blow up. Instead, “start with conviction, stay connected, stay calm and stay the course” (Canoeing the Mountains). You’ll be on your way to “winning the person instead of the argument.” You’ll be cultivating beloved community. You’ll be more holy, healthy, and whole. You’ll be more like Christ.