Monday, February 27, 2017

Bishops and bash-ups.

Following on from an earlier post, and the appointment of a new Bishop in Sheffield, I have been wondering how to disagree well.

There are many ways to disagree badly. Here are four:

We can deny, pretending there is no disagreement. When a contentious topic rears its head, we put our head down and ignore it, move the conversation on or explain away the row with double-speak. I don't advocate being argumentative but we need to have the courage to challenge assertions we deem questionable when they are made. Failing to do that may be a means of self-protection - it also keeps relationships superficial.

We can get defensive. Often, in our enlightened, left-brain, Protestant culture, we conflate our 'selves' with what we believe. A different opinion, then, becomes one and the same as its host, who therefore becomes an opponent, potentially capable of extinguishing us. So, we fight and lash out, attempting to 'crush' the (views of the) perpetrator, losing all capacity for playfulness.

We can manipulate. Rather than engage with a challenger head-on, as a respected and interesting equal that we do not fully appreciate, we use them and any flaws in their argument as an opportunity for promoting our opinion. We look for ways to humiliate them, write them off as quacks or win them over to 'our side', all for the sake of an ego boost or few extra supporters.

We can either brown-nose or uncritically support the underdog. Depending on our inclination, our desire to curry favour or stick up for someone makes us treat any 'truth' or merit on the other side as an insignificance.

What, then, does a good disagreement look like? A readiness to grapple with the matter at hand. An ability to step back from our views, recognising we and the Other person are more than they. A refusal to use conflict for selfish gains. A preparedness to question one's own instincts.

The appointment of a Bishop who opposes the ordination of women is one high-profile example, in my view, of the church mishandling disagreement. My own opinion on lady vicars is probably obvious but I hope it isn't the point. Rather, when I look at the above list, I don't see how people who feel forced to submit can possibly engage in an ongoing, healthy disagreement about such a fundamental and emtionally-charged issue. The appointment will lead to denial, defensiveness, manipulation and tribalism.

I'm really a bit baffled by it.......

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