Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Disagreeing Without Contention

I find the following is something I need to remember constantly:


When emotion rules, things get dicey. I have trained myself over the years to overcome much of my natural inclination to argue in a way that attempts to win, but I still find myself doing so occasionally when I’m not careful. On group blogs (and in general), I have found that the faster I respond, the more likely I am to begin contending in a way that is described in the scriptures as "of the devil". (3 Nephi 11:29) I have said some pretty hard-edged things occasionally, and sometimes I should not have done so, but generally I have tried to do so carefully and thoughtfully and slowly - to do so without the heat of emotion that stokes the fire of contention. I force myself to employ a deep breathing technique and to re-read and edit what I type prior to submitting it when I am particularly passionate about an issue.

On the other hand, disagreement, in and of itself, is NOT contention - and I believe that is the biggest misconstruing of the scriptural concept that "contention is of the devil" within the Church. Also, sometimes we must "contend" if our core values and principles truly are being attacked. It is the discernment necessary to distinguish between honest and basic differences, unintentional attacks, intentional attacks, etc. that is difficult to have and maintain.

Summary: If you or someone else or both are listening to each other, sharing honestly and learning from a conversation, there is no contention - regardless of whether or not you agree. If those conditions are not being met - if you essentially are talking past each other, then contention is present. I don’t always succeed, but I try to remove myself from that type of discussion as soon as I recognize that I (and/or the other participant) am not gaining anything new out of it.

1 comment:

Anthony E. Larson said...

I've had to deal with many contentious people, due to the nature of the subject matter I write about. Like you, I've had to learn to step back occasionally, take a deep breath and rethink my response. My offerings seem to bring out the worst in some people, but I make an effort not to respond in kind. I call these well-intentioned but misguided people "defenders of the faith," self-appointed inquisitors whose immediate reaction is to point out the flaws in your thinking and call you to repentance--sometimes not so gently. Let me tell you, it's been a learning experience, teaching patience, restraint and charity. It's also taught me another invaluable lesson: My fellow Saints are too often intractable, irascible and insensitive. Also, I've learned that their capacity to embrace the fullness of the gospel isn't as ample as I thought it was. That has been the greatest surprise of all. I was operating under the delusion that they embraced the principles in the 9th and 13th Articles of Faith. Silly me!