Respecting others by assuming their inconsistency

It seems like we should respect people by assuming they don’t actionably believe many alarming things they say they do. To respect them is to charitably assume that their common humanity is more fundamental than some of what they say they believe.

Consider heated arguments. Someone you love says something alarming and dramatic. But you dismiss it as “breath in the wind”, something that he didn’t think over, that hasn’t percolated through his life and worldview. You love and respect him by charitably assuming he is incoherent. He is not fully consistent with the implications of his words.

This follows a positive ethic of, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, and a ‘negative’ ethic of, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” You want people to give you the benefit of doubt. To be gracious.

This gives us breathing room to talk out loud, to say tentative things and have them bandied about and put under scrutiny. To engage what someone says seriously, but with patient courtesy. This is what keeps us from being reactionary or hyper-vigilant or hyper-sensitive to offense, or overly worried about what someone will actually do.

It doesn’t make words any less irresponsible (especially reckless accusation or slander), or worldview any less a driving force for life, but it is a reason to slow down and be at peace. It also makes friendships and conversations with people very different than you (even ideological and religious enemies) much more fruitful and satisfying.

“To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2)

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