Updated: Jan 9, 2019
Don't agree with _______ in my life? We're done!
Ever had someone make you feel that way? If so, you're not alone! The "agree with me or leave me" attitude is a dark aspect of human nature and outrage in our society has made it popular. If your relational alignment with someone depends on one thing (politics, occupation, ideas, relationships, friends, etc.), then the relationship is destined for chaos... because the "agree with me or leave me" attitude is toxic. Here's why:
1. A relationship based on one issue is shallow.
2. It's extreme and extremism has never led to peace. While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an extremist, he was extreme about love. He modeled peaceful protest and radical forgiveness.
3. It's a false dichotomy (believing two opposing viewpoints are the only options when others exist) and people can be in relationships while disagreeing about things.
4. It shrinks a person's identity to a single issue, decision, area of their life, etc. People are MORE than their past, orientation, jobs, etc.
Each person was created to be defined primarily by their relationship with God. Other things in life (our roles, schooling, political stances, economic standing, etc.) crumble under the weight of our primary identity. Some people have the "agree with me or leave me" attitude because they're identifying in something or with someone other than God. This attitude protects whatever they're primarily identifying with. As such, the "agree with me or leave me" is more emotional than logical and driven by experience (pain, sadness, fear, etc.). Responding isn't as systematic as listing proofs for the historical reliability of the New Testament. If responses aren't intentional and empathetic, you run the risk of unintentionally shaming the person you care about. Here are some examples of how NOT to initially respond:
Don't walk away.
Don't get overly emotional.
Don't try to prove them wrong or argue.
Don't automatically start throwing Bible verses at them.
Don't become defensive and list everything you've done for them.
Instead, your initial response should look something like this:
Choose to accept them even though you disagree with them
Accepting people is a must if you follow Jesus. My definition of acceptance is: loving someone where they are, no matter who they are or what they've done. Christians are commanded to accept people. Read passages like Matthew 5:38-48; Romans 12:9-18; 13:8-10; Hebrews 12:14 or check out who Jesus spent time with and you'll see what I'm talking about. Acceptance isn't agreement or rejection. Acceptance is showing love and value.
However, you don't have to agree with or affirm everything they do or believe. Acceptance is commanded, but agreement is optional. My wife and I disagree on a lot of things, but we still love each other. I have friends who don't share my view of sexual intimacy, but our disagreement doesn't impact how I treat them or feel about them. Why? People have equal value because everyone is someone God created and Jesus died for. Love relies on acceptance, not agreement. Cheap love is based on agreement.
Acknowledge their frustration
When faced with this attitude, validate the other person's concern. Whether you agree with them or not, there's significant emotion behind their attitude. Validating someone's concern doesn't indicate agreement, but refusing to validate their emotions may confirm their assumptions about you and stop the conversation quickly. Acknowledge them by saying things like:
"I can see how important _______ is to you."
"I'm so sorry that I made you feel like you had to be defensive."
"I value our friendship more than you know. I don't want to wreck it."
"If I were you, I'd probably feel the same way. I don't want to make you feel this way."
Acknowledging someone's frustration communicates their importance to you. When others feel like you value them, they will draw closer to you.
As Stephen Covey said: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." After acknowledging their frustration, ask questions. For the most part, questions communicate empathy, show our desire to learn, allow processing, foster dialogue, demonstrate our care, and more. Questions are powerful and have the ability to take conversations in more positive or solution-focused directions.
"How are you feeling right now?"
"In the past, how have I made you feel this way?"
"How can we best talk about this and move forward?"
"Have I done anything in the past to make you question my value of you?"
"Can you please help me understand why my agreement with you is so important?"
Unfortunately, people with an "agree with me or leave me" attitude may walk away from their relationship with you even if you respond well... but we should still respond well nonetheless. A gracious response makes it easier for them to return to the relationship. Choosing to respond well helps them and shows them a better way. It pushes the false dichotomies and extremism to the side. I believe that the better we respond, the less outrage we'll see in our society. And ultimately, a gracious response is a way for us to imitate Jesus.