Ruthless with ideas, gentle with people

Ruthless with ideas quote

Over the past month, I’ve been going through a course on worldviews and religions, and I’ve been learning a lot. But not just about religions themselves and the descriptions of different worldviews. No, I’ve been learning about people.

What is a worldview? Simply put, it’s the framework through which a person views the world. It is the set of ideas that guides their actions, attitudes, and opinions. Everyone has a worldview that shapes those things in their life, and so through studying worldviews, I’ve learned what’s behind people’s actions and beliefs. It’s helped me to better understand why the world is the way it is, and to understand the hearts of those around me.

Another thing this course has brought to my attention is how important it is that we can understand not only others’ worldviews, but also our own, and that we can defend our positions. As I touched on in my post on discussion, I believe one of the major reasons so many are leaving the church is because they do not truly know what they believe or how to defend it. This is why striving to understand worldviews is so important.

I’m not going to reteach Comparative Worldviews to y’all…at least not right now. For now, I’m going to focus on the quote at the beginning of the post, from Robert Sirico.

We must be ruthless with ideas, but gentle with people.

This simple quote has two parts instructing us on how to relate to two things prevalent in our lives. The first deals with ideas.

“We must be ruthless with ideas” is Sirico’s instruction. What does it mean to be ruthless with ideas? I believe it means to examine them critically. Pick them apart, find what they’re made of. Test them to see if they work logically and in the real world. Don’t just blindly accept things you hear! Be ruthless in scrutinizing an idea before you accept it.

The second part of this instruction is “[Be] gentle with people.” Wow. Completely the opposite of “ruthless,” right? Why so great a contrast? Simple. Ideas don’t have feelings. Humans do.

Oftentimes, we can get so caught up in the ruthlessly refuting part, brandishing our verbal swords, that we end up injuring a human being made in the image of God just as we ourselves were. We forget that it’s the ideas we’re to fight, not the people. It may seem difficult to ruthlessly attack an idea that someone holds to be true without attacking the person himself, and indeed, it may well be difficult. But you can firmly refute an idea without hurting a human being.

First, listen to them. Ask them what they believe, either in general or about the topic that has already been brought up, then really listen to what they have to say. And listen carefully, not waiting impatiently for your turn to jump in and argue. This helps in two ways: Primarily, it shows them you respect what they have to say, and secondly, it helps so you know what you’re up against. It won’t do you any good to fervently defend your belief in the existence of God if the person already believes in a God. Instead, it would be more helpful to know what they believe about God, and go from there.

Second, as you’re listening, get an idea of where they’re coming from. What is part of their life story that affected their beliefs? Listen with an open, compassionate heart. This will help you enormously when you finally open your mouth and begin to speak–it will help you keep in mind their humanity and tread carefully.

Finally, ask gentle but pointed questions to reveal fallacies and other problems with their beliefs. Calmly explain what you believe about the topic and why. Be willing to listen to questions or concerns they have with your position. Keep an attitude of humility and respect, and be willing to admit when you don’t have the answers–then go find them! It’s not a bad day when you are unable to answer a question, because now you know you have something to learn, and you’ll be better prepared next time.

It is possible to be ruthless with ideas while being gentle with people. It all comes down to your heart attitude and your willingness to listen. Don’t be afraid to contradict someone’s statements, but do so carefully and with meekness (1 Peter 3:15-16). Above all, remember to treat each person with honor, dignity, and respect, remembering you are both made in the image of God and imperfect creations.

What’s one way you try to have a “gentle, uplifting conflict” with others?

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