Great minds think alike… except when they don’t. You really never realize how much you disagree with someone until you talk to them every day about pretty much everything. Needless to say, Alayna and I agree on pretty much all of the big things (you know… God, the objective nature of reality, whether kids are in the future, etc). However, we disagree on a lot of other things. Honestly, we disagree on a lot of other things. We generally like different foods, different hobbies, different television shows, etc. I read a ton, but she doesn’t read much. She’s a saver and I am… … …not a saver…it’s true, I’m not perfect. So, we’ve had to work through a lot of disagreements ranging from interpretations of Game of Thrones to interpretations of scripture, from what words mean to when we can start thinking about kids, from the best way to be happy to how often it’s okay to eat out… you get the picture. Lately the disagreements have been about whether a mystical (i.e. experiential) relationship with God is an important part of the Christian life, or if it’s just a blessing that God gives to some people.
With all of this disagreement, it’s pretty easy to lose track of each other at times. We get focused on the disagreement or on the hurtful things that someone said that weren’t actually intended to be hurtful in any way. It can be hard to disagree with someone this much, especially when you expect them to agree, and it’s really easy for disagreements to turn into fights. Alayna and I (as I’m sure is true for the vast majority of couples) think in wildly different ways. Yesterday morning we were actually discussing the Foundationalism/Coherentism problem that I used for yesterday’s philosophical story challenge. I think that this is an interesting, relatively important issue, and very complicated issue, but Alayna thought it had an obvious answer and just wasn’t really that big of a deal. Does this mean that I’m somehow a deep, complicated person and she’s shallow? Does it mean that she’s a philosophical genius and I really just can’t see past the nose on my face? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that it isn’t possible to answer ‘yes’ to both of those questions, but I don’t that either of them are particularly valid. Alayna thinks the answer is obvious because she approaches the question differently than I do. She doesn’t think it’s that big a deal because she has different priorities than I do.
So, set in the context of what we’ve discussed in previous posts (especially in the first post about the nature of creation), this obviously means that one of us has to be wrong, doesn’t it? There’s a creator, so there must be one right answer to everything, right? Again, I don’t think so. Certainly there is one right answer to some questions (i.e. is the Earth spherical? Does God exist? Is Jesus the only way to heaven? Is a human embryo actually a person? Etc). However, there are other questions for which there is obviously not one right answer (what flavor of ice cream is your favorite? Which girls do you find most attractive? Who’s your favorite actor? Etc). As do whether the Foundationalism/Coherentism debate is objectively important… honestly, I have no idea. I think that it could be, but that doesn’t mean that it is. This is an issue where there is actually room in reality for more than one opinion. That doesn’t make all opinions right, or even equal, but it does mean that there isn’t one right position and everyone else is wrong.
So, how do we actually deal with this in practice? Well, I have a few rules that I try (and try is the key word here, because I fail a lot) to apply whenever we disagree.
1) Stay Calm: Whatever the disagreement is, staying calm and collected is the best way to move forward and solve it. If I get frustrated and angry over little disagreements, then I just add to the chaos and am more likely to hurt her in the process. (… …I think that I’m pretty bad at this one… Alayna apparently thinks differently :P).
2) Don’t Take Things Personally: Even when it sounds like she’s accusing me of something, she probably isn’t. This is especially true when she actually says ‘Now when I say this I don’t mean you…’ So, instead of taking things personally and letting myself be hurt by things that she didn’t mean to be hurtful, stay somewhat detached and stay objective. (… again, I’m not that great at this one either).
3) Take Her Seriously: This is, I think, one of my most important rules. If I don’t take Alayna seriously, if I just blow her off, or make it seem like I’m obviously right and she’s obviously wrong, then it blows the disagreement way out of proportion. It’s a sign of arrogance on my part, and a sign of a lack of respect for her as well. So, the problem then becomes, how do I take her seriously when I think it is obvious that I’m right and she’s wrong? That’s where this becomes very difficult because then I have to accept the fact that I could actually be wrong about this. This is the great horror of taking other positions seriously: it means accepting that I could potentially be wrong. In most of our disagreements I don’t think I struggle with this all that much, but when I do struggle with it (and I have a few times) I struggle hard.
4) Listen… Actually, listen: Again, this one is very important. It’s easy to just kind of half listen to Alayna’s side of the argument and then repeat my case all over again. However, this doesn’t do either of us any good. My job isn’t to convince Alayna that I’m right (which I find myself trying to do too often), but to understand where she’s coming from. That’s hard to do a lot of the time.
5) Be careful how I phrase things: I try to be clear, and we still have plenty of misunderstandings. Sometimes it’s because I’m failing miserably. Sometimes it’s just because we’re coming from two very different foundational viewpoints. However, in all of this it’s still very important to make sure that I am being clear.
6) If it doesn’t need to be said, don’t say it: There are lots of times that I think of something that I could say to make a point really hit home. Generally these things are clearly hurtful and often they aren’t either necessary or likely to help resolve the disagreement. However, it is still easy to think of things that I could say. One of my rules, and this is one that I’m generally good about keeping, is that I don’t say these things. If there is something that needs to be said because I love Alayna and I’m convinced that she needs to hear it then I will say it. However, if it’s something that I want to say because it will help me win then I always try to avoid saying it. Alayna actually pointed out, as we were writing this, that she can’t remember a time when I’ve broken this rule. I’m pretty sure that there have been a couple, but she is generous with her forgiveness.