"Simple courtesy, the ability to compromise, and the willingness to think of the larger good - those things seem to be in short supply. We are reaching the point where the very social fabric is coming unraveled."
If these words written by United Methodist Bishop Mike Coyner are true, there is reason to share his serious concern for government and church leaders. He goes on to say that "we live in a time when there are too many conflicts, too little cooperation, and too few people who are willing to get along."
According to the good bishop this climate has given rise to situations that we see and hear in daily news reports. But physical violence is not the only way these attitudes express themselves. Verbal and emotional abuse are also examples of our increasing inability to relate to one another in a civil and respectful manner.
Bishop Coyner notes that the Apostle Paul was distressed when he saw Christian people at odds with one another. He appealed to the folks at Corinth to "get along with each other." In his first letter to the Corinthians he told them that they "must learn to be considerate of one another" and work to "cultivate a life in common."
(I Corinthians 1:10)
He offers the following suggestions of how we can reverse the trend of disharmony among people in all walks of life.
• Start by saying "I could be wrong" when expressing your opinions. That simple caveat allows room for the other person to have a different opinion. And it is also the truth - we may well be wrong, even when we have a strong opinion.
• Practice stating opposing opinions without labeling or cynicism. The ability to explain positions with which we disagree means that we have truly listened and learned. It also makes it more likely that we will convince others to consider our opinions.
• Agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable. There is nothing which says we must always agree, but our disagreeing can be civil and polite.
• Don't go thermo-nuclear on every issue. Most issues are not ultimate, so don't ramp up the rhetoric on every little thing.
• Allow God to speak for himself and don't presume God agrees with you on every one of your opinions.
The church leader concludes with these words: "Will these five steps eliminate all of the divisions and violence in our society and all the divisions in our churches? Of course not. But we must start somewhere. As the Apostle Paul says, 'We must get along with each other.' We must."