Words have a specific meaning. When we understand what a word really means, it makes a big difference in how we act or react in any given situation. In this Tip, I want to differentiate between preference and conviction.
I once heard the story of an attorney who represented a gentleman by the name of LeRoy Yoder in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. Mr. Yoder’s daughter was given a school assignment to watch a particular television program and write a position paper on the outcome of the show. That particular program was one that Mr. Yoder found objectionable because of its offensive material. So, he instructed his daughter to see if the teacher would instead give her an alternative assignment. When the daughter was told that she must watch that show and that there were no alternatives, Mr. Yoder went to the school officials. He explained that he had a conviction about his daughter watching certain programs that had offensive material in them. To make a long story short, Mr. Yoder and the school “butted heads.” The case went through the local and state courts and ended up in the Supreme Court of the United States.
As the attorney argued the case, he explained that his client had a conviction about protecting his family from what he considered unfit television programming. One of the Supreme Court Justices interrupted the attorney to ask what he meant by the word “conviction.” For the next several minutes, the Supreme Court Justices discussed the meaning of that word. They concluded that a conviction is something for which a person is willing to die. They further decided that a preference is something that a person has a strong feeling about but is willing to change under certain circumstances.
In trying to clarify whether Mr. Yoder had a preference or a conviction, one of the Justices asked him what programs he would actually let his daughter watch. Mr. Yoder answered, “There is so much violence and immorality on television that we do not even own a television set. I would rather die than expose my family to all of that poison!” Oddly enough, the Justices saw that this father really did indeed have a conviction over this issue and Mr. Yoder won the case.
Although I heard that story over thirty years ago, it has been one of the focal points in my own understanding of how to do life. I am amazed at how many times it helps me to clarify circumstances and situations. I ask myself one simple question, “Is this a preference that I have strong feelings about, or is this a conviction that I am willing to die over?”
When I speak, I prefer to wear a coat and tie. It gives me a feeling of professionalism and communicates a business-like atmosphere. But, that is a preference, not a conviction. I am not willing to die over wearing a coat and tie!
On the other hand, I believe our country should protect itself against terrorists and people who want to destroy the lives of innocent people. I am willing to stand up and fight for that issue. That is a conviction!
I have come to see that, in reality, I have only a handful of convictions.
I once heard it put this way: Preferences are many, but convictions are few. Preferences are always changing, but convictions never do!
The next time you are involved in a “heated discussion,” ask yourself whether or not the issue you are discussing is a preference or a conviction. If it is about a preference, perhaps you will be a little more flexible in your attitude. However, if it is about a conviction, then I strongly suggest that you stand firm on your principles.
I honestly believe that my life and relationships have been far better having understood that nearly every issue I discuss is simply preference related. Which restaurant I eat in, where I go on vacation, which airline I fly, the color of my clothes, are all preferences. This concept has greatly helped me in learning to choose my battles more carefully.
As you begin to put this Tip into practice, I am sure that you will be amazed to see how it will greatly diminish the conflicts you have with other people too. To sum it all up, “In matters of preference swim with the current; in matters of conviction stand like a rock!”
Tip: There’s a big difference between a preference and a conviction.
Have a great week! God bless you!
Dr. Robert A. Rohm