In her classic book Etiquette, written in 1922, Emily Post wrote, “Be careful not to let amiable discussion turn into contradiction and argument. The tactful person keeps his prejudices to himself and even when involved in a discussion says quietly ‘No. I don’t think I agree with you’ or ‘It seems to me thus and so.’ One who is well-bred never says ‘You are wrong!’ or ‘Nothing of the kind!’ If he finds another’s opinion utterly opposed to his own, he switches to another subject for a pleasanter channel of conversation.”
Now, most readers of this blog know I’m a big Emily Post fan. That said, I don’t entirely agree with her advice concerning conversation (sorry, Emily!). Yes, I love amiable discussion and am not so fond of contradiction and argument. Yes, I’m all for switching topics if a debate is becoming overly heated. But I think that in ordinary conversation among intelligent, thoughtful people, there’s room for vigorous debate, and even occasionally a removal off the (white kid) gloves, as long as the situation doesn’t devolve into ad hominem attacks, scorn, and rudeness.
The trouble is, nowadays it seems next to impossible for many to keep a civil conversation, well, civil. My personality type is one that does not seek out division and animosity, I get stomachaches sometimes just reading the vitriol that flies past on Facebook or through my e-mail. It’s enough to make a girl reach for the smelling salts.
Thus I was powerfully attracted to read Jesus Outside the Lines by Scott Sauls, a Presbyterian pastor. The subtitle is “A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides.”
“Tired of taking sides.” Does that nail it or what?
Pastor Sauls makes a strong case for learning how to discuss the issues without devolving into shouting matches and flame wars. He breaks the text into these topics:
Red State or Blue State?
For the Unborn or for the Poor?
Personal Faith or Institutional Church?
Saving or Sharing?
Affirmation or Critique?
Accountability or Compassion?
Role Model or Authentic Struggler?
Chastity or Sexual Freedom?
Hope or Realism?
Faith or Questioning
Epilogue: Self Esteem or God Esteem?
I tend to come down on the conservative side of most issues. While I didn’t agree with every single point Pastor Sauls made, I came away from each chapter with much to think about and a firm determination to neither shrink away nor attack, but to speak the truth in love. The boors we will always have with us, but Jesus Outside the Lines offered me renewed hope that wherever smart, thoughtful, caring people gather, we can discuss hot issues without pounding each other to smithereens.
Disclosure: I’ve been given a review copy of this book by the publisher. This generosity, while appreciated, has not biased my review. I also post some of my reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.