By Steven Norris

     Every time that I hear the opening chords to the song, “Eye of the Tiger,” I can feel the blood start pumping through my veins. I picture Rocky Balboa, preparing to go into the boxing ring. The chorus of the song rings out in my head, “Its the eye of the tiger, its the thrill of the fight. Rising up to the challenge of our rival.”

     Disagreements in life are inevitable. Whether it is religion, politics, or college football, we are not going to see “eye-to-eye” with everyone on everything. How do we prepare ourselves for those unavoidable moments of disagreement in a way that moves beyond name-calling and gridlock to a God-honoring encounter? Let me suggest six principles that might guide your efforts.

     Practice curiosity. Often, we are quick to place people in a box, only paying attention to what they are saying long enough to assign them to the appropriate box. “Oh, you’re one of those people. I know about them.”

     Move the goalposts. Too many times, we only listen in order to respond. We are attentive to a person’s argument until we find the flaw or the chink in their armor that we can exploit to win a point. Instead of “winning” the argument or defeating your opponent, a more God-honoring goal might be to understand and connect with the other person.

     Get to the “why.” Even when we do listen, our curiosity might stop at what a person thinks or believes — where they come down on an issue or who they support. Much less frequently do we try to understand why a person has arrived at that conviction. What are the values that undergird that belief? Are there values that you share in common? I am amazed at the number of times that conversations about values reveal that I am not that different from those with whom I disagree.

     Minimize the outrage. Many issues today are intimately tied to deeply-felt emotions. Outrage can be an effective motivator when harnessed and channeled in a focused direction. As scripture reminds us, however, “in your anger, do not sin.” There is a fine line between anger over an issue and sinful anger towards a brother or sister in Christ.

     Identify the true enemy. The scriptures tell us, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world.” It can be easy to forget who the true enemy is when we are embroiled in disagreements.

     Lower the shields. True connection comes from vulnerability, not right-ness. In an effort to avoid getting hurt, we insulate ourselves from the possibility of true connection as well. Jesus modeled strength through vulnerability. Because he “ emptied himself,” he was given the ultimate victory over sin and death.

     Reading over this list, I need to remind myself that, rather than “rising up” to the challenge of my rival, I may need to “open up” to the possibility of connection and transformation. It may not fully resolve the disagreement, but it may reveal new roads filled with generative, fruitful, and life-giving possibilities.