Getting AlongBy Mark F. Carr, PhD
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Why can't we all just get along? Have you ever wondered why it is so difficult to get along with each other? Within your family? At work? On the road? Across national boundaries? And even at church? It seems that getting along with each other is a major challenge in our time. And I'm not sure that our routine ways of communicating help make things better. The popular media seems to want to draw lines of division and difference that often end up in bitter conflicts all around the world. And to what end?
Getting along with each other takes a decided effort that we are not often willing to take. Let me suggest four principles for you and your interaction with others, regardless of the context. These principles can help whether you are a head of state trying to get along with a rouge country or teenager trying to get along with a class bully.
1. Be a good judge.
2. Be concerned for others.
3. Be like Christ.
4. Be positive.
Be a good judge
Let's start with the first principle, being a good judge. Most people these days don't like to be thought of as being judgmental; for good reason. There have been too many wars fought over a judgmental and condemnatory attitude toward others. But we can be, no, we must be, good judges without being judgmental. One does not have to be judgmental toward others simply because one is thinking carefully about what one believes. In other words, being a good judge simply means thinking carefully about what one believes.
In our interaction with others, we shape our own beliefs. We see and hear things from others that we have definite responses toward. When I watch a young kid beat up a grandmother on the bus, I have an immediate, strong, and clear pattern of thought that says this is wrong. Do I shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh well, I guess the kid doesn't think the same way I do about this." No, I speak out and act out so as to stop the abuse. But I don't have to call the kid names, condemn him and the parents who raised him in the process.
Relativism vs Moral Responsibility
When I urge you to be a good judge, I mean that I hope you will not allow yourself to mindlessly accept the relativism so prevalent in our society. Relativism says that there are no common rules upon which we may base our moral interactions. The relativist who sees a teenager beating a grandmother could simply say "That's a pity but it is not for me to say or do anything about it."
Being a good judge means I must be open-minded toward others' values and morality. This is a point that relativists want us to learn and it is a good point. Condemning others simply because they are different than us is immoral. My mother taught me this lesson through one of her proverbs that still rings in my head. "Mark," she would say to me, "Think before you speak!" In fact, one time as Mom and I were standing in a checkout line at the grocery store, I practically yelled out the fact that the woman in that other line had a mustache! About the time I got half way through the word "musta…" her hand clamped down hard over my mouth! I was just a kid and I needed to learn to think carefully before I spoke up. Sometimes, these days, it seems not enough mothers are teaching their kids to think carefully before speaking.
Scripture helps us here when it encourages us to "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3.15). In other words, you are not a relativist (you do have convictions, beliefs, and values that are important to you) and you want to be able to help others understand why you believe the way you do. The shrug of the shoulders and the phrase, "Who am I to judge" doesn't work in the maintenance of societies. As members of societies we must be clear about what we believe and why. However, and this is a big, big however, we must not do this in a divisive and combative way. Our society, our world, needs us to be peace makers not war mongers! When we make our selves clear, when we are good judges, we must do so with gentleness and concern for the other. In fact, this verse in 1 Peter doesn't stop there, but we don't normally read the rest of the verse; "…yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
Imagine if in our interaction with others, when we needed be clear about what we believe and why, when we need to be good judges, we did with gentleness and reverence! Imagine speaking out of kindness toward the other! Imagine actually upholding the other in a position of reverence, even when we disagree with passion. This attitude would revolutionize our interactions with others. In the place of hate and anger toward the other, we come to the interaction with gentleness and reverence.