America was once the poster child of free thought and free speech. It seems that the greatest proponents of free speech in our history were those in government, academia, and the press. In recent years they appear to be increasingly the ones who want to silence those who disagree with them. People want to fortify their own narratives than to formulate real solutions. At least that’s my observation.
Our country (and the world) has become increasingly divided. Individuals and institutions pick sides and refuse to listen to an opposing opinion. This is a sad situation for everyone in the long run. If we are grownups and moderately intelligent, then we should be able to hold two opposing thoughts in our heads at the same time and respectively discuss them.
Here are a few points of consideration about conversational listening. I believe they could be beneficial from the halls of Congress to our dining room tables. Consider the following:
LEARN TO LISTEN
“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13 NKJV). I hate having a discussion with someone who does not let you finish a sentence before saying “Yeah, but…!” Hear people out, you might learn something.
I was on a long flight home from a foreign country and just happened to be sitting next to a young Muslim man. The casual conversation turned to religion and I identified myself as a Christian and he identified himself as a Muslim.
Being genuinely interested in his perspective on salvation, I asked him and just listened. It is amazing what you hear and learn with your mouth shut and your ears open. After some time, I responded with, “That’s interesting and as a Christian this is what we believe about salvation in Christ…” I had his ear for a few minutes because I first gave him my ear and full attention for a few minutes. We never argued and listened respectively to each other’s point of view.
ACTIVELY LISTEN BUT DON’T ARGUE
When people get emotional and begin to argue, no one is really listening. They are only figuratively loading their argument gun for the next firefight. If you are discussing a subject with someone and you only make them mad, you just lost the debate.
LISTENERS GAIN KNOWLEDGE
“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge” (Proverbs 22:17 NKJV). Someone said, “A broke clock is right twice every day.” There may be a nugget of gold in their pile of rocks. Over the years, I have also learned a lot from people who did not appear to be the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. Everyone has their story.
When I taught school, I asked one of those crazy questions to a group of students, “Is this half-glass of water, half-full or half-empty? From adults, the usual answer is about being either optimistic or pessimistic. One little eighth grader replied, “If you are pouring it in, it’s half-full and if you are pouring it out, it’s half empty.” My mouth dropped open—in all my years, it was the best answer ever! WOW!!
SILENCE CAN BE LOUDER THAN SHOUTING
Silence can be deafening. People are looking for agreement to their ideas so a non-response can sometimes be better than a counter argument. There are times we need to be vocal about issues and other times we just need to keep quiet, wisdom is knowing the difference. Some mountains are worth dying on but I’ve never seen a molehill where I wanted to die.
DON’T LOSE A FRIEND, SO YOU CAN WIN AN ARGUMENT
I have almost done this a few times. Maybe I have done this. And there are a few friends who thought they convinced me of a few things, but I just shut up and let them talk. I considered their friendship more important than being RIGHT. A friend and a future open door are more important to me than a debate trophy.
I often hear in the public square, “We need to have a conversation about (fill in the blank)! Yes, we probably do! But first, we need to have a conversation about having a conversation. It starts with respect and listening then transitions to understanding and solutions. I’m listening!!
Yours on the Journey,
Harry L. Whitt