Respectfully Disagree: Learn from the Saints

'Respectfully disagree' by Mary Lou Rosien (

By Marcello eM via (2007), content license


Do we debate or disagree respectfully anymore? It seems that discourse and argument has risen to a new level in recent days. We hide behind computer screens and toss verbal garbage at each other as if our opinion is always right and the only one that matters. The political landscape is littered with reputations scattered, broken, left for dead. Catholics too, are locked in battles over papal teaching, traditions and social justice issues, leaving a wake for hurt feelings and damaged relationships. Even within families you hear bickering, name-calling, or negative assumptions about each other.

How can we repair the fabric of society, allowing for honest differences of opinions without destroying each other? A few simple ideas and some wisdom from the saints can help us to get there:

Always study the opposite point of view.
In the household I grew up in, we were encouraged to debate ideas and reason with each other. The one rule was to study the opinion that you didn’t agree with. In this way, you would either strengthen your own resolve or allow yourself to grow in perspective and change your mind. Either way, you would better understand the person you were conversing with.

Ask yourself: How would I feel if a person I like/didn’t like did this?
I witnessed an interesting interaction: a person was told that an idea came from someone they liked. They immediately agreed with the idea. Then it was revealed that the idea was actually from someone they disagreed with. This exercise uncovered unrealized bias. We can be better equipped to fairly assess something if we ask ourselves, “How would I judge this (idea, situation, accusation) if it came from someone that I liked (or conversely, didn’t like)?”

Assume no malice unless proven.
This is a journalistic rule that should be applied to all situations: personal, professional, political or otherwise. We too often attribute emotion or intent to a situation unfairly. We should assume the best by all, until a time (if ever) when other evidence to the contrary comes to light.

Study examples of the saints.
Through examples of saints, we are reminded to correct our own behavior rather than focus on the actions of others. There is no arguing in heaven; we can keep this in mind.

Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you, remember Christ crucified and be silent.
St. John of the Cross

Truly, matters in the world are in a bad state; but if you and I begin in earnest to reform ourselves, a really good beginning will have been made.
St. Peter of Alcantara

Peace and union are the most necessary of all things for men who live in common, and nothing serves so well to establish and maintain these as the forbearing charity whereby we put up with one another’s defects.
St. Robert Bellermine

There is no one who is without faults, and who is not in some way a burden to others, whether he is a superior or a subject, an old man or a young one, a scholar or a dunce.
St. Robert Bellermine

From what does such contrariness arise in habitually angry people, but from a secret cause of too high an opinion of themselves so that it pierces their heart when they see any man esteem them less than they esteem themselves? An inflated estimation of ourselves is more than half the weight of our wrath.
St. Thomas More

If we should see two men fighting together over serious matters, we would still think them both crazy if they did not leave off fighting when they saw a ferocious lion coming toward them, ready to devour them both. Now considering that we surely see that death is coming on us all, and will undoubtedly within a short time devour us all—–how soon, we don’t know—–isn’t it worse than insanity to be angry and bear malice to one another, more often than not over trivial matters, in the same way children fight over cherry stones?
St. Thomas More

Copyright 2017 Mary Lou Rosien


About Author

Mary Lou Rosien is a Catholic wife, mom to seven, educator, writer, and speaker. She is the author of several books including Three Things Divorced Catholics need to Know and The Joy-Filled Broken Heart. She is known for her love of all things cooking and baking, especially “Friday cookies.” Visit her at

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