Whether it’s your boyfriend, sister, or best friend, chances are you’ll disagree with someone about something sometime. What are some best practices for having fruitful conversations when you’re both firmly rooted on opposite sides of an issue?
St. Ignatius has some tips for discernment that work well for resolving disagreements And these hold true whether you’re discussing climate change, where to send the kids to school, or what to do for dinner tonight.
Before you’re able to discern properly, however, you need to make sure your head is in the right space.
Father Warren Sazama attributes to St. Ignatius seven attitudes for authentic discernment: openness, generosity, courage, interior freedom, prayerful reflection and examination, having your priorities straight, and not confusing the means with the ends. If you don’t have these attitudes, it will not be possible to discern well.
So how do these apply to disagreements?
Openness means coming into a decision without preconceived ideas. This is especially important when you are arguing with someone because if you can’t listen to what he or she is saying, your conversation will be fruitless. If you enter the discussion assuming you know their position, you won’t listen and be able to truly discuss your differences.
Generosity means that you have to be ready and willing to change, or at least to understand the other side. Often it is easier to argue the crazy opinion you think someone holds then to understand what they actually think and why they have come to believe that.
Courage is important because what you are discerning (or in this case disagreeing about) may be emotionally charged and sharing your side may be unpopular. You’ll need to have courage to say what needs to be said.
Interior freedom is necessary for discernment. You can’t be free if you dance around what God is calling you to and never fully commit. Or if you talk around the subject so much that you don’t ever focus on what needs to be done, you aren’t free either. Similarly, when you are disagreeing with someone, you have to get to the point and not fill the conversation with detours. And you aren’t doing either of you a service if you keep intentionally starting and stopping the conversation so that nothing real can be said.
The fifth attitude is one of prayerful reflection — if you aren’t in the habit of reflecting on your life and praying regularly, you won’t be able to discern well. Prayer and reflection help form your thoughts and opinions, and thus directly affect your views on everything from political stances to questions of morality in daily life. Forming your own conscience well by examining it and by trying to listen to God better every day can only help you grow in wisdom. You may even learn the grace of when to discuss and when to just listen and pray.
The last two attitudes are having your priorities in order and not confusing the means with the end. If serving and loving God isn’t your first priority, then you won’t know how to prioritize decisions and everything will get muddy. And when you’re arguing your point with someone, it is essential to have your priorities straight, and to make sure you are arguing for a good reason (for the right end). Are you trying to prove your opponent is wrong to give yourself an ego boost? Instead, you should be presenting your thoughts to someone to help them serve and love God better. Maybe that doesn’t seem like an obvious connection when the subject under debate is what to do for dinner tonight, but perhaps conceding to takeout Pad Thai is a sacrifice for you that will help you grow in love for God and your sister.
St. Ignatius, help us discern and discuss well!
The art of discernment: How to make the right choices