Sunday, February 1, 2015

conviction and civility

A lot of terms have been floating around in my mind recently. They have been coming up in different discussions going on among my friends and in the wider campus community. Truth and love. Conviction and civility. Epistemological humility. All having to do with the same thing: the ability to hold deep, strong convictions with a posture of humility.

This binding together of conviction and humility is something that most people need to work on, in one of two ways. There are some people who, in the interests of sensitivity toward other people, are hesitant to claim strong convictions. There are others who have no trouble establishing their convictions, but who struggle with engaging with opposing convictions in a spirit of gentleness and humility.

I am the girl who thinks through what she believes, comes to firm conclusions, and is very forthright about sharing them. I get the strong convictions thing. I'm good at that. The humility thing, however, is something that I have increasingly realized that I need to work on. I am often not humble in my convictions. And that is something that I need to repent of and work and pray to change.

I need to be clear: I am in no way apologetic for my beliefs or the strength of them. But I realize that all too often the way I hold them is in an attitude of pride and not of humility. This manifests itself in two different ways.

First, it means that when I am listening to people who have different beliefs than I do, I listen very critically, mentally (and sometimes verbally) pulling apart their arguments to reveal the faults that exist in them.

Second, it means that when I share my own convictions, I unintentionally come across as stubbornly dogmatic. People can feel that I am trying to change their minds rather than help them understand where I'm coming from.

This is counterproductive. When I listen to others, my first task is not to critically compare their beliefs with my own. My first task is to seek to understand their beliefs in order to better understand them and love them. This does not mean that I unthinkingly agree with their opinions. It does mean that I learn to understand how someone else could think through an issue and come to a completely different conclusion than I have.

This idea of seeking understanding is crucial when I am sharing my own convictions. When I have an argumentative manner designed to convince the other person, I put her on the defensive, which can lead to her being unwilling to hear and consider what I actually have to say.

My mom always said there's no point in winning an argument if you lose the person you're arguing with.

I want to cultivate an attitude of humility and desire for understanding. When I listen to others, I want to move past the fact that I disagree with their conclusions and respect their thoughtfulness in reaching them. If I share my ideas with the goal of helping them understand me, rather than convert them to my view, they are actually more open to my ideas. Instead of feeling attacked, they feel cared for. It is amazing what a world of difference humility can make.
"Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." Ephesians 4:15
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." 1 Peter 3:15-16

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