"Disagree better, not less"
Our son recently turned 21. We celebrated his birthday together up north on a beautiful Friday, walking our property, enjoying a good meal and playing some euchre. The gastronomical finale was the Coke Cake, Grandma Brantley’s time-tested carbonated confection.
It is now a treasured family recipe but when my then-boyfriend-now-husband, Scott, first shared his grandma’s recipe with me, I was like, “What? Coca-Cola in a cake?” And then I tasted it--oh yeah! His were the dear grandparents that loved me like their own and also introduced me to cushaw and quince among other wonderful gifts harvested from field and forest.
That Jacob spent his 21st birthday with his parents and sister was an honor for us. He had other options, ones that involved friends and pubs, but chose us. After having spent the last semester studying and interning in Washington D.C., we relished the time together, catching up. We gifted him with a certificate to his favorite retailer, REI, and the book Love Your Enemies by Arthur Brooks.
The title of this book is clearly based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44, but it’s not a religious book. The Library of Congress Subject Heading is “Political culture—United States.”
I recently heard Arthur Brooks interviewed and was attracted to his intelligent and kind demeanor and timely message. While he was in Washington D.C., Jacob had visited the American Enterprise Institute, where Brooks is president and he really appreciates Brooks’ ideas, so the gift was a hit.
I haven’t read it yet, but hope to soon. I have been reading the Book of Ezra this week, and something in Chapter 6 resonated with the ideas Brooks espouses:
“because the Lord had filled them with joy by changing the attitude of…”
This joy comes at the culmination of rebuilding the Second Temple in Jerusalem after decades of Babylonian captivity. Eleven days after completing the monumental project, the Israelites are celebrating an appointed time, and they know it's only possible because the Lord changed the attitude of King Darius to support them.
Attitude change. I think that's what Brooks’ book is mostly about. Darius needed God to change his but he has also given us the awesome ability to change our own hearts.
Too often we attribute other’s motives wrongly. We make assumptions about their ideas and hastily respond without truly listening or desiring to understand.
Brooks rejects the notion that disagreement is bad: “…we need a robust ‘competition of ideas'—a.k.a. disagreement. Disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth. We need to disagree better, not less.”
So HOW we disagree matters. Is our attitude one of love? Or contempt? Contempt is the poison that damages relationships. Are we dismissive, mocking and sarcastic when faced with opposition? Or, are we gentle, willing to hear what the other person cares about and why?
Brooks talks of lifting up human dignity: "When someone treats you with contempt, treat it as an opportunity. No one ever walks away from an argument saying, 'I wish I were more of a jerk.’
“…each of us can make a commitment never to treat others with contempt, even if we believe they deserve it. This might sound like a call for magnanimity, but it is just as much an appeal to self-interest. Contempt makes persuasion impossible — no one has ever been hated into agreement, after all—so its expression is either petty self-indulgence or cheap virtue signaling, neither of which wins converts.”
And he reminds us, in this toxic political environment, a small percentage of rich, powerful and famous Americans are profiting from contempt. Turn off the news, the noise. Choose not to ingest the garbage.
One of my favorite pieces of his advice: “Go where we’re not invited and do things people don’t expect."
I love it! He invokes a missionary spirit: “Have vision and purpose, and say things more loving than people expect. Embrace your gifts and share them with love and positivity. Remember that when you interact with people who disagree with you, be beautiful and good.”
And really, we don’t even have to leave the house to employ these excellent principles. Our relationship with our spouse, children and extended family members provide daily fodder for growth in this area. And where else but the Thanksgiving table do we annually have opportunity to show love, not contempt, to Uncle Harry for his ignorant views on whatever it might be?
May we all embrace Jesus’ full instruction in Matthew 5:43-48, including “love your enemies” but also…
“Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
If you’re reading this on May 5, you have the rest of the day to read Brooks’ op-ed column on-line from The New York Times which has taken down its online paywall for three days to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, “asking us each to imagine what would happen around the world if journalists, and the public, were not watching.”