We Don't Have To Argue
Fr Trevor Trotter, Regional Director of Oceania, St. Columban’s Mission Society
Over the last few weeks, I have been reading "Let us Dream: the Path to a Better Future", which Pope Francis wrote with the help of Austin Ivereigh. It was only published in 2020, so it includes a lot of reflection by the Pope on the COVID crisis. He sees this time as a time of great possibilities. The crisis calls us to change and to dream of a new and better future.
One key belief of Pope Francis is how we cope with the polarisation that we find in modern life. If you talk about politics, the question is, "Do you vote for the government or do you vote for the opposition?" In the Church, the question is, "Are you a conservative or are you a progressive?"
In our arguments, we often take what is usually a highly complex situation and boil it down to just two positions. Is it black, or is it white? Polarisation is the default position for most of us. The Pope says life is more complicated than that. Yes, you find people holding different opinions on matters, but these tensions are part of life. There are a couple of ways not to resolve the tension.
One is to give in and so not hold the tension. Just give way to one side of the argument. Nothing new is learnt here and the discussion is not advanced any further. The other way that is not helpful is for the partners to stick to their guns and not move. Not only do they not move they do not even want to move. They are not open to discovering more truth. They are both static. There is no progress.
Pope Francis says that if the two sides listen to each other and hold the tension while remaining open to further learning, there will often be a breakthrough. We have forgotten in our arguments that we are not alone in our search for the truth. So often, the Holy Spirit's working in our lives is not factored into our search for the truth. The Holy Spirit is not listened to if we just give in or stick to the same old position we have always held. In Francis' language, the contrapositions have become contradictions.
There is no breakthrough or to use another word from Francis; there is no 'overflow'. If the two sides of the argument are like two banks of the river, everything will continue. When the water rises and overflows the banks then something new is happening.
Really, we do not need to argue in the sense of just sticking to our guns and never giving in. If we find ourselves holding a different position from someone else, let us seek the Spirit's outcome. Let us listen attentively to the other person expecting that we will learn something from what is being said. Let us pay attention to what is happening within ourselves so that we are open to learning something new from this conversation.
Unless we hear something different or learn something new, how will we grow in our knowledge of the truth? How will we grow in the love of God and the love of our neighbour?