For most of my life I’ve been devoted to black and white. Terrified of opening myself to the gray and listening to those with other perspectives. As terrified as I am of snakes. Like I might lose control and get bitten and die.
But I’ve learned that black and white people often speak in sound bites which aren’t super conducive to community. Or growth.
More and more I see Facebook updates, tweets, buttons, and bumper stickers that try to sum up a conversation in 140 characters. Pithy sayings.
Some of this is cute.
Some of it makes me cringe.
l love black and white. Right and Wrong. Winners and Losers. Problem solved. Clear solutions. Definite closure. Move on.
My husband? He’s more gray. His refrain is “It’s complicated…”
In spite of my bent towards “Bam! We’re done!”, more and more I feel convicted that we need to find ways to invite dialog.
What if she is just bossy?
I read these and whether I agree or disagree I want to say, “Yes, but… Yes, and… What about…? Could we talk about this?”
We’ve gotten better and better at the dump and run way of communicating. We’re much better at talking than listening. We like being the righteous prophet making pronouncements without the humility to hear from others who might add to the dialog or nuance the issues.
Richard Mouw writes, “As the Lutheran scholar Martin Marty once observed, people these days who are civil often lack strong convictions, and people with strong religious convictions often are not very civil. What we need is convicted civility.”
I believe this convicted civility includes the courage to listen well.
What if the underlying issue here is fear?
What if one of our biggest fears is the fear of listening to those we may disagree with? The fear of dialog that’s highjacked by self-rightousness or defensiveness? The fear that we might be proven wrong? The fear that God isn’t big enough for these discussions?
My husband, John, is really good at asking questions of those who hold a different position than him. I’m trying to learn from him, and what I see is that
- If I listen to the opinion of another, no matter how certain they are, I will not die. Listening doesn’t rob me of my ability to choose my own way. There’s no secret power here. Other points of view aren’t Kryptonite.
- We all have blind spots. Listening to the opinion of another may reveal angles I’ve missed. Could I (gasp!) actually need to change? Openness to dialog has the potential to make me both wiser and more self-aware.
- Listening to another models the love that Jesus advocates and Paul writes about: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
- Listening with respect and humility models a different posture than the mean-spirited and polarizing one many associate with the church.
So, just a question…How do we lay aside our fears and promote dialog with a posture of humility and civility?