Disagreement without discontent

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Disagreeing without disconnecting from others is an art. It's possibly one of the most useful tools in building human relationships. It's also an age-old practice.

Jesus exemplified it when he approached the Samaritan woman at the well. Gandhi lived it in his refusal to see Hindus as better than Muslims.

Standing for principle can land one at odds with someone who takes a different stand. It may make one the target of envy and hatred. But regardless of others' bad behavior, people have a right to stay true to what they believe without disconnecting from others.

A friend of mine from another country has been teaching me this lesson. His culture is much more open and accepting of debate and differences of opinion. Husbands and wives are free to express openly their diverse perspectives in front of others without being misunderstood or having issues to discuss later. In our own friendship, my friend is open and honest with me when others would politely say something nice. Because we're assured of our respect and affection for each other, there's no fear of bad feelings when we disagree.

As I've practiced this approach with other people, I've found that the key is to identify what I respect in others. It also helps not to hold on too long to opinions about them and their choices or perspectives. It's each individual's responsibility to state the truth and let that truth do its work, trusting that those who need to hear its message will hear it.

It's not anyone's job to change anybody else. In fact, that can be impossible. Only Truth - God or divine Spirit - can change others, and it often does. But a commitment to being honest with oneself and to not being afraid to speak this honesty, prevents one from feeling disconnected, even when there's a difference of opinion.

The freedom that comes from being able to disagree without losing the relationship indicates that the value of each other is based on each one's innate goodness, not on having the same opinion or perspective. It says, "I value you for you, not because you agree with me." My friend has been helping me say, "I'm so sorry, I just don't agree" with a smile. If I remember what I respect in the other person, there are no bad feelings.

This approach has improved my relationship with my dad. A major disconnection when I was young destroyed our relationship for a time. It took many years for me to find something in my dad to respect. The breakthrough came when I saw I could love him without agreeing with him. Loving him didn't make me vulnerable or weak; it brought strength. It meant my worth was not attached to having him agree with me, but was in my ability to love him even when he didn't love in return. From that point on, I saw my dad - and myself - differently.

This summer he sent my 3-year-old son some wonderful gifts that showed he honored the values with which I'm raising my child. Practicing my respect for my dad means I have many opportunities to say, "I'm sorry, Dad. I just disagree." But I no longer am discontented about our differences.

A passage from the Bible helps me when I don't like what someone does or says: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair" (II Cor. 4:8). In relationships in every aspect of life, discontent only serves to hurt us, not the people we expect to punish. And we each have a mission in life that's too important to afford this interruption.

If Truth is overcoming error
in your daily walk and conversation, you can finally say,
'I have fought a good fight ...
I have kept the faith,'
because you are a better man.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)

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