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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dimensions of Disagreement

Ever lock horns in a never-ending dispute? What was it like? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 735).

Let us say for a week I have a contractor doing work at my house. Perhaps it's a bit unusual, but every day we have lunch together in the yard. He brings his own meal, but I supply the iced tea and napkins. Over lunch the subject of politics comes up and we are both opinionated and have viewpoints that are at polar opposites. Therefore, we get into heated debates—yet our disagreements over politics has no effect on our overall good relations. We even come to have admiration, goodwill, and increasing trust in one another for mutually showing honesty and spunk and for staunchly defending strongly held convictions. The key reason for our good relationship despite disagreement is that we have nothing critical at stake in our discussions. We are merely affirming our points of view and do not expect our discussions to have any practical consequences whatever.

Notice how quickly the picture would change if the subject were an area where each one of us has critical, contesting stakes. Instead of politics, say we are at polar opposites about the work the contractor is performing at my house. We hotly disagree over the adequacy and quality of work or materials. Here, surely, the practice of our having daily contentious lunch sessions together would be short-lived. Rather than witness a growing trust arising from our disagreements, distrust would soon fester and ultimatums and accusations would be flying.

Thus, locking horns in a dispute can occur on different levels depending upon whether the stakes are critical or not—and this makes for a decisive difference.

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