Nine ways to disagree well

Independent senator for SA Lucy Gichuhi on the art of conflict resolution

1. I had to understand the new culture I came to when I moved to Australia before expecting my host culture to understand me. I was like the Berocca tablet that has just been dropped into the liquid mixture. I learnt that this shows respect to my host culture. It does not mean I agree with everything in the new culture, it just means we can communicate effectively. It begins to create a culture of honour.

It shows greater respect and the other person feels understood and becomes part of the solution. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with their viewpoint.

Respectfully seeking to understand is different from just blindly accepting or indulging in another person’s beliefs or their way of life.

Many times, we are hacking at the leaves instead of the roots of the tree.

2. Each one of us is a steward of what God has put in our life. I grew up Catholic, got married and became a Presbyterian, then attended a Baptist Church and now I am told I am a Pentecostal. I don’t really know – neither do I care about this stuff. All I know is that I understand better how to lead my life God’s way with the valuable contribution of all these groups. I also know how important it is to Jesus Christ that we become as one as he cries out four times in John 17.

As a Christian I learned I had to shift my paradigm in order to see myself as a steward, agent and trustee of whatever God has put in my life – not as a controller, possessor or even owner of my situations or circumstances.

I have had to resign as the general manager of the universe many times.

3. I learned that I need to guard my mental and emotional freedom.

Preserve and take in the good.

4. Find the root cause of the conflict. Many times, we are hacking at the leaves instead of the roots of the tree.

This brings me to an incident that recently happened in the Senate where one of the senators put on a burka in an attempt to express herself. In response, the Attorney-General George Brandis said about the stunt, “it has been the advice of each director-general of security … that it is vital for their intelligence and law enforcement work that they work cooperatively with the Muslim community. And to ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done.”

5. Preserve and take in the good. What is good about Australia? Our constitution (which is getting a work out at the moment), our electoral system, our legal system, our health system, our education system, our welfare system etc. Of course there are problems with all of these but, compared to most parts of the world,Australia shines.

6. Say “No” to the bad, stand for what you believe is right with strong belief and conviction. It is okay to say “No!” and stand by your “No” within reason.

I recently had an opportunity to disagree agreeably in the Senate. I did not agree with the idea of requiring hardworking Australian permanent residents to pass an expensive university level English test to become citizens. However I am a strong advocate for everyone to become proficient in English. The way that I disagreed agreeably was to personally appeal to the minister to lower the test to the everyday conversational level which he did in part, but not sufficiently.

Love people. This is the greatest of all things.

7. Be in control of your belief system, your mental faculties and your convictions. They are worth fighting for. Mental and emotional control is the worst form of control. Unfortunately it appears in our politics, churches and other community circles and brings only resentment and division.

8. Forgive and forget where possible. Unforgiving people try to control other people so they can blame them for their own victim mentality with mental and emotional control.

9. Love people. This is the greatest of all things. We must love in freedom and responsibility – not in guilt or manipulation.

Sitting in the Senate as an independent senator, the art of disagreeing agreeably serves me well.

Lucy Gichuhi is the independent senator for SA.

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