I don't usually write very personally autobiographical posts, but this will be a bit of an exception.
Anyone reading this blog knows that I am a controversialist. I delve into controversial issues and love to discuss them. I think that it is a part of my major calling in life to confront errors both inside the church and outside of it. I am drawn to debates and dialogues with all sorts of people on important subjects, and I both enjoy it and am happy to be useful in that regard.
However, I absolutely loathe interpersonal conflict. As soon as a conversation becomes personal and there is acrimony and animosity involved, I want out of it immediately. Unfortunately, being a controversialist who engages lots of different people on lots of sensitive and controversial subjects, and being someone who engages error even in my own circles when I see it, it is not always possible to avoid making people angry with me. So there is a tension here.
I am also fascinated by human psychology, and my own tension here creates an opportunity to explore interesting (and often aggravating) aspects of my own personality. In particular, with regard to my loathing of interpersonal conflict, I have been analyzing my own responses and have found some interesting things.
Let me provide a sort-of concrete example of a recent set of conversations that have driven me to think about my own psychology. As regular readers know, I have been thinking through issues of church unity and authority quite a lot over the past year. I have been confronting some confused theoretical and practical trends in this area prominent in Reformed Christian circles. Recently, I have been discussing these issues with some people in my circles who really don't like where my views have headed. They believe me to be in serious error, and have told me so in no uncertain terms. I have found that their attitude towards me has been incredibly painful to me. It has caused an enormous amount of internal tension and even anger in me. So I have tried to examine myself to figure out why that is.
I am realizing more and more that I am a Betazoid. For those who don't know, the Betazoids are a race of beings on the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation who have telepathic abilities. In the TNG episode "Tin Man," viewers are introduced to a particular Betazoid who has had trouble throughout his life because he has never learned to control the continuous influx of emotions from other people all around him. He has had trouble not losing himself in his strong sensing of the emotions and thoughts of others, and so has tried to avoid associations with others.
Well, I'm not actually telepathic, but God has created me with a personality that is very much naturally inclined to be able to see things from other peoples' points of view. When I interact with others, I tend to naturally see things from their point of view, even to the point of seeing myself from their point of view. When people are angry with me or offended by me or disapprove of me, I tend to internalize this and feel ashamed and guilty even when I know intellectually that I am in the right. You can imagine that this makes certain encounters that go along with being a controversialist very uncomfortable! (I spoke of this tendency in myself earlier, without labeling it, in my blog post from nearly a year ago titled "On Angry Atheists".) When other people speak disapprovingly to me, particularly if they have dominating personalities, I find it hard to keep my bearings and confidence and to maintain my own point of view. And this tendency frustrates me greatly and tends to make me angry, so that I have to deal with that feeling as well. All of this makes personal confrontation on an emotional level very, very difficult for me.
My ability to see things from other peoples' points of view is a gift from God to me, and it is an invaluable tool in my ability to be a controversialist, as it helps me to empathize with others, to respect those who disagree with me, and to deal very seriously and thoroughly with contrary positions and arguments. So I am very grateful to have this trait. But I need to continue to learn to control it better. I need to be able to turn it up higher in certain contexts (such as when I am having a cordial conversation and trying to understand another person's point of view) and to turn it down lower in other contexts (such as when I am being attacked or chastised by others for believing or doing something I know is right). In reliance on God's grace, I need to work to bridle my inner Betazoid and put it to good use without letting it get out of hand and cause trouble. It is like fire, which has often been said to be a great servant, but a poor master.
Well, at least I am an introspective introvert as well (more particularly, I am an INTP), so that I am good at looking inside myself and figuring this sort of thing out! As they say, "knowing is half the battle!"