Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Little Deeper Look at the Third Level of Intimacy: Opinions

Many of us don’t do well with conflict. Extreme conflict or low level subtle conflict may shut us down. Some people are hypervigilant when it comes to detecting the slightest hint of controversy. Given that opinions are likely to indicate controversy or potential conflict, here is where relationships can bottom out.

“The reason that it is so important to learn to thrive in the third level of intimacy by accepting each other in spite of our differing opinions is because we generally reveal our dreams only to people we feel accepted by.”  This is the warning that Matthew Kelly includes in in chapter on the fourth level of intimacy, hopes and dreams. If we can’t get beyond the third level, we are at a very shallow level of relationship indeed.

We also tend to fool ourselves about our depth of relationship. We will say that we are at the other levels but as soon as we feel we are getting resistance, criticism, doubt, or any other sign of a lack of support, we use any one of a number of techniques to return to a shallower level. In fact the person we are sharing with may also use these techniques because she is uncomfortable for some reason. Some of these techniques could be humor, changing the subject, feigned agreement with our critic, and on and on.

For church members, lay leaders, and clergy, opinions are a part of the fabric of congregational life. Multiple denominations were birthed due to differing opinions and controversy. It’s inescapable. If we can see the goal of  talking about our opinions as exploring the topic and developing a fuller, more intimate understanding of one another, rather than establishing who is right and who is wrong (which is rarely the case), real relationship can become richer and more meaningful.

What does this mean for a congregation, board, or committee wrestling with a situation? It means that everyone has to make a real effort to see the other person’s point of view. Ask more questions about other people’s point of view than statements about your own. Answer honestly when asked a question. Understanding someone else’s point of view does not mean you accept their position, only that you understand. Matthew Kelly is correct when he says that acceptance is the secret to the third level.

Relationship challenges have the potential to help an individual become a better person. They are opportunities to learn about others and share about your self. A wonderful quote from the book says “It isn’t your job to fix the relationship. It is the relationship’s job to fix you.”

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