Respectful Discourse

Having said all that (Please read my earlier post first), I still think it’s a mistake to publicly declare absolute certainty on topics where there are known to be rational arguments against the position. Whether intended or not, the effect can be quite negative for those that don’t share the view. If I say that I know something, am absolutely sure of my position, I am also implying that I know those with a different view are wrong. I show through my words a lack of respect for the people that have come to different points of view and for the processes they have used to get there. Unless I have concrete evidence proving that I am right, then I am not only being disrespectful but I am also displaying an appalling degree of arrogance.

Here are some phrases that show more humility and greater respect:

  • I believe I’m right. 
  • I think I’m right. 
  • I hope this is true. 
  • I want to believe this. 
  • I am fairly confident that I’m right. 
  • If I discovered I was wrong, I would feel terrible. 
  • I choose to believe this.
  • I believe I have many good reasons to believe as I do.
  • I don’t want to consider any other alternatives. (This builds walls, but sometimes walls are necessary.)
  • This belief makes me happy/feel good/etc.
  • Losing this belief would be devastating.
  • This belief means the world to me.
  • Believing this has made all the difference in my life.
  • I would not be who I am today if not for this belief.
  • Please try and consider my perspective. (Although this assumes I haven’t.)

If you want to be open and real, an even better way could be to share the reasons for a belief. This could feel more vulnerable since hiding reasons can keep them from being challenged, but it shows humility and can keep walls from being put up.

  • I think this because…
  • I want to believe this because…
  • I choose to believe this because…

If you’re open-minded enough, you could try some of the following phrases or questions:

  • I would like to better understand your perspective.
  • How did you come to believe as you do?
  • Interesting. Could you expand on that further? 
  • Do you feel like you can choose what to believe?
  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • I’m not sure if I fully understand, but I want to. Can you please try to explain again? 
  • Let me see if I understand correctly … 

Or if you don’t really want to go there, sometimes just a touch of empathy can go a long way:

  • I love you.
  • I don’t share your beliefs, but I think I understand how you got there. 
  • Thank you for your honesty.
  • I appreciate you and your efforts to bridge the gap.
  • Can I give you a hug? (Some of these are more or less appropriate depending on the relationship.)
  • Want to go for a bite to eat?
  • I trust that you know what is best for you and are making decisions accordingly.
  • I may not understand exactly where you are coming from, but I still respect you. 
  • I believe you put careful thought into this. I know you are intelligent. 

Things not to say:

  • I know this is true.
  • Without the shadow of a doubt …
  • I will pray for you.
  • Someday, you’ll come back.
  • You believe … (and then say something completely wrong)
  • God loves you anyway.
  • I feel sorry for you.
  • I feel sorry for your children.
  • I know if you just do this, God will …
  • You should … (read this book, study these scriptures, pray, etc.)

There are so many more items I could add. If there are any of these you don’t understand though, please shoot me a message or leave a comment. My goal here is to promote understanding and respectful discourse. I am not closed to considering new perspectives or new takes on old perspectives. Maybe there is something I have not understood. Maybe I have made a mistake in my reasoning. Maybe I’m completely wrong about everything I believe. I freely admit this because I do want to believe whatever is true. I share my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs openly so that they can be challenged, respectfully.

*Haru and Shyan helped contribute to this article.

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