If you haven’t noticed, we live in a polarized society. And unless you’re able to avoid the internet, the newspaper, the television, and all situations in which you might have to speak with other human beings, you’re going to have to figure out how to navigate this cacophony of clashing opinions. It’s the reality in which we all live.
Thankfully, the Bible does not leave us in the dark. Sure, its words were written long before Facebook and the proliferation of “fake news” websites. But still, there are some remarkably relevant lessons to be learned when we sit beneath Scripture’s teaching and allow it to shape our presence in a culture of discord and controversy.
Drawing from the book of Proverbs, let me suggest a few general principles to help you maintain your sanity in a world full of people screaming at each other.
1. Keep some opinions to yourself.
Do you have a strong conviction about the most recent presidential appointee? About the latest healthy eating trend? About an article in today’s newspaper? About whether Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback ever or the sleaziest cheater of all time?
All of those convictions are wonderful, and you’re entitled to maintain them. But not all of those convictions necessarily need to be expressed. Proverbs 13:3 says, “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” And in Proverbs 17:27, we read, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In other words: it’s perfectly fine to sit out of a public debate every now and then.
2. Learn from those who disagree with you.
You may be appalled to learn that your coworker went to the Women’s March a few weeks ago. Or, she may be appalled to learn that you went to it. In either case, rather than immediately launching into your tirade against the opposing viewpoint, try asking a question. Find out why she thinks what she does. Ask about her experiences. Discover what makes her tick.
Proverbs 12:15 is powerful: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” The world has grown to expect outrage. So why not flip the script? The next time you find yourself disagreeing with someone, surprise them by expressing an honest desire to learn from their perspective. As it says in Proverbs 15:14, “The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.”
3. Don’t get angry when someone sees things differently.
Perhaps you really like our new president. And you really want others to know that. So you take to social media to make your voice heard. But three minutes later, you get notified of a new comment. It’s your Great Aunt Linda, and she is irate that our country is being led by such a terrible individual.
You may think Great Aunt Linda is crazy. You may think her political values are uninformed. But before you launch your barrage of comebacks, remember the words of Proverbs 14:29: “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” By all means, you’re free to disagree. But there’s tremendous power in emotional restraint. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32)
4. Be bold in speaking truth.
This may seem to contradict everything I’ve said so far. But as important as it is to practice restraint and silence, it’s equally important to speak up when the need arises. Proverbs 24:24-25 says, “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”
Is LeBron James better than Michael Jordan? The world probably doesn’t need your opinion on that. But when it comes to things like abortion or racism or violence against minorities, don’t let your silence grant wickedness a free pass. There’s a time to be silent about less important matters. But there’s also a time to be vocal about clear injustices and transgressions. Be prepared to do so boldly.
Unfortunately, we can’t prevent disagreements. But through wisdom, self-awareness, and a spirit of respect, we can aim to become the peacemakers that God calls us to be.