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C. S. Lewis had a good friend named Owen Barfield. They were friends from the time they met during college in 1919 until Lewis’ death in 1962.
Lewis called him his “Second Friend.” That’s “the man who disagrees with you about everything. . . .Of course he shares your interests; otherwise, he would not become your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got the wrong thing out of every one. . . .You go at it, hammer and tongs, far into the night. . . often more like mutually respectful enemies then friends” (from Surprised by Joy).
When was the last time you had such a “good” argument? I call it “good,” because if Lewis and friends hadn’t been willing to maintain such friendships in the face of such disagreements, Lewis would never have converted to Christianity, and some of my favorite books (like the Chronicles of Narnia) would never have even been written (not to mention many other works that have transformed hearts and lives).
I’m not sure our society has the stomach for going at it “hammer and tongs” anymore. Sure, there’s a lot of arguing and a lot of hammering on people who disagree with each other, but what Lewis and Barfield did was different. They began with a sense of mutual respect and safety. They knew that they would emerge from the most heated arguments as friends, just the same. It no longer feels very safe in our “It’s all good” society to even hold a strong opinion, much less argue openly for it. Do you agree? Yet, where would C. S. Lewis have been spiritually if he kept his thoughts and questions all to himself?
I can still argue like that with my twin sister; after all, if you can’t argue in safety and mutual love and respect with an identical twin, who CAN you argue with? In fact, some of our most heated discussions have helped me to shape, refine, and articulate many aspects of my upcoming novel. I’m so grateful to her for that! But still, knowing how difficult even that has been at times makes me realize how few people approach differences of opinion with a willingness to hear out, learn from, and stick with each other.
With all the talk over the past couple of decades about diversity and tolerance, it feels like people more and more are simply huddled in their figurative bunkers with like-minded folk. Can’t we can do better than that?
Where better to start than in our schools? Instead of being places where we are afraid of divulging our diverse opinions that a truly diverse society will have, and where we rarely discuss in a meaningful way the passions that have brought people across oceans and continents in search of a new life, can’t schools be a place where we can learn to approach people from a place of mutual respect and safety? To argue things out, “hammer and tongs” so that we can truly understand where the other one is coming from, even if we don’t ultimately agree with them?
Some kids have told me that they feel perfectly free to express their opinions at school–as long as they conform to the liberal, feminist mindset of most of their social studies and literature teachers. Surely we can do better than that.
One question: How can we create a safe, mutually-respectful environment for real discussion of differences? We can’t make other people approach us with respect just because we want them to. I think it starts with us, finding and enjoying common ground with those diverse “others,” and really knowing that God created each of us–no matter how wrong or corrupted or somehow perverse the other might be–in God’s own image, with a special purpose in mind for each one.
Until we reach that day, however, I hope we can take these words from the disciple Peter to heart:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15).
That would be a start!
For friends new to this blog, “Wednesday’s Word” is a weekly Bible audio clip that rotates between Genesis, Luke and Psalms. Occasionally, I post “Wednesday’s Word to the Free,” a short Bible passage on what it means to be free. Freedom is a very big concern to Timley Mouse, the tiniest character in my upcoming novel, Bon Voyage, Sophie Topfeather! On Sundays, I post an article-type post on themes in the novels: faith, friendship, diversity, etc. Please join in the conversation!