Monday, February 14, 2011

Learning To Disagree

I am becoming more and more convinced that learning how to disagree well is the foundation for …well everything. Anyone who has been paying attention has seen the toxic effect of I'm-right-and-everyone-else-is-a-horrible-person on American politics, but it is not just politicians and pundits we can point fingers at; it is us, too.

Husband S and I got married when we were young, dumb, and brand new parents. With an eye on the odds, you probably wouldn’t recommend that young people take this route. Sixteen years later, he is still the love of my life and I shudder to imagine my life without him. Most of the time I am at a loss to explain how we beat the odds to make our marriage work when so many others who marry young do not. The one thing I come back to is we always try to fight fair. Whatever either of us is upset or angry about, the goal of the conversation has to be to fix the problem and heal the relationship, never to make the other person feel bad. We never call names when we fight. This is hard. Really hard sometimes, but it establishes a foundation of trust. I know that S is never out to get me. I know that I can count on him to listen to me and that my feelings are important to him. Always.

I thought about this yesterday and we need to apply that same standard in our congregations. Yesterday I attended some communication training at our Fellowship and during this session, it became very clear that there are deep divisions within the Fellowship that are still in the process of being healed. Some of these revolve around a specific experience, but I believe many others are part of our denominational dialogue at UU’s: theists vs. non-theist, those who want the church to be a mission to the world vs. those who are content with a liberal oasis, etc. Do any of us want to be in a Unitarian-Universalism where the only people left think just like us? Or do we want to continue as a faith with a rich dialogue of dissenting voices? If the latter, we need to focus on remembering or leaning how to disagree.

The thing about your church that totally annoys you, well that might be just the thing that keeps the person next to you coming to church. For non-theists it can be threatening when people keep bringing all their god-talk into your last bastion of rational safety, and I know there will always be tension there between these two camps. But surely our commitment to support each other in our own searches for meaning is bigger and more important than whether or not we involve a divinity in that search. Working together to make the here and now a better place takes precedence over what compels us to do so.

When I am mad at someone, I friend of mine is in the habit of asking me if I want to be right or be happy. The answer varies based on mood and circumstances. I want to apply this question to our congregations in a broader sense. Do we want to nurse our sense of righteousness or do we want to have a relationship with others in our church community, one which nourishes both of us? We say we want a big tent, so we have to build that tent with our individual everyday interactions with each other.