It was my favorite class. At least for the first half of the semester. I loved the passion with which the professor destroyed the arguments of opponents. His words helped to deepen my faith and my convictions. And I appreciated his humor and wit. He had a special way of pointing out the ignorance of those who disagreed with us theologically.
Then I became a them instead of an us.
The class wasn’t as fun anymore. His wit wasn’t humorous, it was biting. His arguments weren’t airtight, they seemed overconfident, silly, and as if they weren’t presenting my side in the best light. He didn’t change his tactic, just his topic. And it changed my view of the professor. When I experienced the way he treated my arguments it caused me to not only question his integrity on this issue but to even cast doubt upon his other positions as well.
I learned much in that class. I agreed with the professor on about 90 percent of the material. But it was that 10 percent and the experience of being on the “other side” that shaped me more than any of the 90 percent which I agree upon. It wasn’t the content that bothered me. It was the way in which he interacted with my position. And what I felt emotionally as he did this. It created in me a few added hurdles I had to overcome to take him seriously in his other statements—even when I agreed.
This experience has caused me to always pursue understanding the other side. As best as I can I want to listen and accurately present their side. At the end of the day I may not win the argument, but I’m convinced I’ll have gone further in winning the person. It’s helpful to think about our interactions on social media—and probably more importantly face to face interactions. If someone I am witnessing to were likely to listen to my arguments and the way I’m interacting, would they be more or less likely to listen to me in the future?
When this professor pummeled straw-men he had a chorus of amens from those who already agreed with him. You can criticize President Trump to a group of Never-Trumper’s and get a chorus of amens, but if you aren’t being fair in your critique what are you doing to future conversations with those who don’t agree? And especially what will happen as you try to interact on different and more important topics like the gospel? You might have just absolutely exposed the foolishness of socialism and liberals and secular thinking, but have you now forfeited a hearing on the kingdom of Jesus? If your argument isn’t fair, gracious and Christ-like then you probably have. So what’d you win?
Here is a very simple way to apply this. Put yourself in a position where you hold a minority position. Take note of the way you feel when you are dismissed, mocked and derided. Consider how likely you are to respect and listen to the person who has unfairly represented your position. Don’t pick a fight. Don’t try to win another argument. Just listen. Listen to what is going on in your mind and heart. Feel the defensiveness rising. Feel the hurt.
And now remember that the next time you interact with someone (especially if it’s a faceless group of people) who disagrees with you. And don’t be that guy. Fairly represent your opponent. Don’t attack straw-men. Refuse red meat speeches. I don’t know, maybe treat someone else the way that you’d like to be treated. I feel like I’ve heard that somewhere before.
This article originally appeared here.