It is rare that I read a book just based on the title, but the book I am reading now is one I started for that exact reason. The book is Learning to Disagree: The Surprising Path to Navigating Differences with Empathy and Respect by John Inazu. Maybe that title appeals to you as well. When I think of how disagreements tend to play out in America in 2024, empathy and respect are not usually words I would use to describe the sides I see in disagreement. In fact, they are often as far away as I could imagine. I am only in chapter two, so this is not a recommendation yet. However, the author asks a question in chapter one that is important to people in general, but especially important to people who are supposed to be known for our love.
“How do we learn empathy?”
I think most of us are good at empathy with people who are like us or people who are dealing with similar challenges in life. We might struggle more with people who come from different backgrounds, think differently and have values or hold opinions we disagree with. Yet we are still called to love people like that. That love calls us toward empathy. The kind of empathy described in this book sounds quite a bit like the empathy we find in scripture. Inazu says this about empathy:
“Empathy is not rocket science. It’s hearing an unfamiliar or off-putting argument, pausing to think about what has been said and responding with an appropriately engaged question. It’s giving people the benefit of the doubt because you may not know what battles they are fighting. It’s treating others the way you would like to be treated. Empathy is the simple stuff that’s hard to put into practice.”
In short, hear, pause, respond appropriately and give the benefit of the doubt. As followers of Jesus, we should lead the way on empathy. It is the example He gave us when He encountered people who others dismissed. He is the one who taught us that people who are come from different backgrounds, think differently and have values or hold opinions we disagree with are still our neighbors. Let’s strive to love and understand them better.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” – Colossians 3:12-13

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