Minutes before I spoke to a Christian leadership retreat, another speaker took a position disputing what I would soon be saying. Wanting to avoid conflict or embarrassment, I discreetly asked my friend Mike Bishop to step outside. When I sought his counsel, he nodded his understanding and said, “Just remember, and, not or.”
Mike’s wisdom set me free. I could add to – rather than contradict – what had just been spoken.
I’ve often thought about Mike’s “and” in this election season. The swirling accusation that attends presidential elections seems to pull all of us into sharp (but quite unnecessary) polarization and conflict. Everything tends to be either/or. We seem incapable of reasoned, thoughtful, and charitable assessments of opposing views or candidates.
Both Sides Now
Columnist William Raspberry once told me “most people believe more than one side of any issue.” That has become an enormous and orienting truth for me. But when the structures of our time cannot tolerate complexity or nuance, everything becomes either/or.
To live in “And” just screws up the algorithms of the age.
Let’s face it; most of those who prefer Trump are genuinely concerned about the integrity of national borders, terrorism, pervasive incompetence, and the loss of respect for America throughout the world. Those people are not crazy or evil; they are grappling (however inarticulately) with serious issues.
And most of the people supporting Clinton are reaching for a more just and inclusive society, one that rejects the old structures of privilege and power. In fact, I think most people on the left yearn for a new story, one that rises above the old rules and allows dreamers some space.
As author Jonathan Haidt suggests in his book, The Righteous Mind, conservatives are more concerned about authority, loyalty, and sanctity issues. Liberals are more focused on care, fairness, and choice. Those tensions are valid and necessary. They are all “and, not or” issues; surely a civil society can and must discuss all of that intelligently and kindly.
But for some reason it is difficult to just listen to a position and then respond with, “Yes, I see that. And perhaps we also need to also consider…” The biggest problem with that position is pride; what I know is often the enemy of what I don’t know.
Humility is the only antidote for pride.
The Path of Humility
Humility is always appropriate, always in season, and always dignifying. Humility is not self-degradation or passivity; it isn’t a servile posture. Real humility is based on the conviction that my view is incomplete. My capacities and perspectives are limited; I need others.
That’s why I like what pastor and author Tim Keller says about the integrity of conversation. He says we should “do the work necessary to articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, ‘I couldn’t have said it better myself.’ Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity…”
Now imagine Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump sitting at a table in a TV studio, earnestly and humbly talking about issues. Clinton says, “Now, Donald, here is what I heard you say in Cincinnati. Now, please tell me if you agree with the way I express it or not.” And Trump listens carefully, nods, and says, “Hillary, that’s it. Thank you. That is my position.”
Sadly, we all know that is never going to happen.
But you and I can practice that kind of relational and conversational integrity. We can humbly, patiently, and respectfully listen to one another – even on Facebook! Even when others speak in anger and exaggeration, we can love, listen, and respond gently.
When I think of how little I really know about life, God, His creation, about anything, I catch a glimpse of the towering ignorance that drives anger and conflict.
What if…we all stopped fighting, humbled ourselves, and turned our energies to exploring the deep and immeasurable riches all around us? It is just possible that you may discover a vital link to a beautiful treasure…one that would be enormously helpful to others, including me.
What a beautiful world.
 Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012.