Something fascinating about human conversation is not only what people disagree over, but how they express their disagreement. There’s body language to take into account, as well as the level of openness a person has toward controversial topics and relational conflict. A person’s experiences, culture, religion, and political leanings can also influence how an individual handles disagreement.

I made a short list of some of the types I’ve run into. I’m sure there are more, but I needed to keep it to five so I could word play off the title The Five People You Meet in Heaven. (A book that—depending on which Goodreads reviewer you ask, could be described as either “heartwarming and meaningful,” or “preachy, boring, and immensely awful.”)

1. The Avoider

I decided to begin with the Avoider because they prefer to end a disagreement before it has even begun. This does not mean they do not hold opinions or beliefs. They would simply prefer to avoid the tension of discussing a controversial topic. Just because their mouth is silent, that doesn’t mean their body language is. For example, when someone starts talking about the 2020 election, you may notice The Avoider’s shoulders tensing up to their ears, or their eyes widening so far that their optic nerve gets to sneak a peek at the light of day. The most they like to engage in disagreement is to ask, “Can we talk about something else?”

2. The Soapboxer

On the other hand, the Soapboxer is quick to share their unfiltered opinion. Though they might not be quick to ask what other people think about an issue, that does not automatically mean they are unwilling to listen to an opposing opinion. In fact, some Soapboxers enjoy a passionate debate with those not intimidated by their strong thoughts or high volume. If they had access to a literal soapbox, they and their wild hand gestures would probably stand on it. Their intensity can be intimidating, but there’s no questioning where a Soapboxer stands on issues from the theology of sexuality to how toilet paper is properly hung.

3. The Chameleon

The Chameleon can appreciate a disagreement. They don’t have to crawl into a hole like The Avoider, but they aren’t quick to state what they believe either. Instead, they ask questions that probe what the other people think, and only reveal their own opinions or beliefs when they match those in the room. (Which, depending on who you ask, either means they are protecting their mental health or being a complete coward.) When someone says something that they strongly disagree with, The Chameleon may turn their mouth down and say, “Interesting.” They do such a great job molding to their surroundings that their real beliefs and opinions might come as a complete shock.

4. Devil’s Advocate

The Devil’s Advocate likes to announce that they are about to disagree with you by saying, “Devil’s Advocate, here,” followed by their opposing opinion. Nothing said in front of the Devil’s Advocate is ever said with enough nuance, and therefore, the baby is always thrown out with the bathwater of your beliefs. Always, beware, that if you mention an issue you care about in front of the D.A., they will quickly remind you of three other issues you should care about even more than that issue. You might post a photo of a dandelion—no caption—and they will comment, “I just want to offer a little pushback…”

5. The Zinger

The Zinger is good at capturing their views in short statements, often in the form of sarcastic one-liners. At their worst, they become name callers. At their most enjoyable, they’re on your same political or theological bandwagon and provide a little comic relief for the exhaustion. They engage in disagreement, but not deep enough to reach any nuance. They throw out so many blanket statements you could build a sky-scraping fort.

I could go on to include The Assumer, The I’m Unfollowing, The Unitarian “All Beliefs Matter,” The Anti-Christ Forecaster, and The Worst. (You can fill-in-the-blank with what that last one means to you.)

Though this article is written with a tone-of-sarcasm font, my goal here isn’t to further polarize people by caricaturizing them. 

Because the truth is, I’ve been all five of these people before. I’ve acted the chameleon because I worried about the judgment I’d receive for admitting my beliefs. I’ve avoided disagreement on social media because I save my deepest convictions and hardest conversations for the people who know me and the neighborhood I live in, in real life. I’ve soapboxed when I’ve felt pushed over the edge by my emotions. I’ve pushed back on people’s arguments not because I disagreed with them, but because agreeing would mean accepting a belief outside of the political or religious box I’m comfortable fitting into. I’ve resorted to zingers when it felt easier than pushing into the deeper nuance of a complicated issue.

The good news for us is, disagreement is a tale as old as the earth itself. (Which means, depending on who you ask, it’s anywhere from 6,000 to 4 billion years old.) 

Even when the New Testament church was a baby, its members were already getting into quarrels over a wide variety of issues, reminding us that there is nothing new under the sun. There’s no need to sit around and wonder why we can’t all just get along. A better question to ask ourselves instead is, when disagreements come, which should I engage, and how can I still engage in deep fellowship with someone I disagree with?

Which brings me to another set of five, but this time, I’m calling it The Five Fruits of Disagreement.

I’m a big fan of applying the fruit of the Spirit to topics such as this, because, as Paul summarizes, “there is no law against these kinds of things.” (Galatians 5:23 ERV) And while I’ve acted The Five People in Disagreement that I described above, I’ve also been on the receiving end of these five fruits below. A gift of grace from others that I found highly impactful. 

1. The Joyful Neighbor

The Joyful Neighbor knows that real people aren’t projects to fix or political issues to argue over. Their proximity to people who are different from them helps them treat others—everyone—as image bearers of God. Even though The Joyful Neighbor holds deep convictions, their commitment to caring for the place they live—warts and all, from the bottom up—is what they value through disagreement. They may disagree with someone, but that doesn’t stop them from showing up, making a casserole, or reminding their neighbors they care.

2. The Gentle Questioner

The Gentle Questioner is patient in disagreement. They are willing to ask clarifying questions that help them better understand what another person believes, how they handle disagreement, and why they hold their convictions. They may ask them how they define a specific term, or to explain the experiences that led to their beliefs. Whether or not chivalry is dead, The Gentle Questioner demonstrates that curiosity doesn’t have to be, because they show genuine curiosity toward the people they disagree with. They have the gift of humanizing.

3. The Faithful Runner

Sometimes the real tragedy isn’t that people disagree or mishandle disagreements, but that they allow themselves to get sucked into the vortex of disagreement so far that they are kept from participating in the meaningful work they set out to do. The Faithful Runner doesn’t let twitchy thumbs in the comment section keep them from muddying their hands in the dirt of their actual neighborhood. They learn to discern which arguments to engage in and which to let go of so they can faithfully live the specific life God gave them.

4. The Self-Controlled Reactor

This person is a safe sounding board. They allow people to share their disagreements and doubts without jumping to conclusions, especially the scary, damaging, religious kind of conclusions that have to do with whether or not a person is saved. When someone disagrees with The Self-Controlled Reactor, their immediate reaction isn’t to cry “persecution,” but to participate in dialogue. They also practice discernment on who they allow to speak into their lives, filtering through the people who best understand their specific circumstances.

5. Patient Pray-er

Although it may be tempting for The Patient Prayer to spend the time on their metaphorical knees begging God to change the thoughts and convictions of the people they disagree with, they instead focus on praying for their own desires to reflect God’s kingdom. They pray they will have the strength to show grace to those they disagree with, because they’ve been humbly reminded once or twice that God has disagreed with them before too.

It might be a bit before we all get along again—which, if you ask me, probably won’t be until the Prince of Peace returns. But that doesn’t need to stop us from thinking about how God can grow these fruits in us, even through disagreement.

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