Monday, May 18, 2009

Step back and listen

Everyone has an opinion. Have you noticed that? Ask someone about health care reform, or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the local budget referendum and you will get responses from people that will surprise you. Ask a Democrat about water boarding and you will hear a litany of complaints and charges against the former administration. Ask a Republican about the President's plan to revive the economy and you will hear rants about irresponsibility that will go on forever.

These opinions that we give go way beyond politics. Ask someone in the Northeast if they think the Yankees have a chance to win the World Series and you just might end up hearing a monologue about a team that tries to buy a pennant every year. Red Sox verses Yankee discussions often turn into a full fledged argument that dates back to a feud almost as old as the Hatfields and McCoys.

The truth is that today almost every issue causes people to choose up sides and vilify the other. Abortion, health care, prayer in school, war, taxes, sports, gay marriage, gun licensing, immigration, global warming and everything else under the sun has come up for debate. It is no longer acceptable for one side to reason with the other and come out ahead by a few points. It has become all out war.

If someone doesn't agree with you, they are the enemy. If someone even poses the possibility that there is another way to think about an issue, their loyalty is questioned. I think there is something dreadfully wrong with this.

When I was in college I took an ethics course. I remember the professor saying that any issue could be looked at in at least three different ways ethically. Abortion was the big topic back then. Roe Vs. Wade had just set the standard for legal decision making. As a conservative I didn't want to hear someone tell me how abortion could ever be an ethical choice for a person to make. Yet, he lifted up the cases of incest, rape and the health of the mother. He talked about situational ethics. He noted that sometimes the context for a decision makes all the difference in the world.

It has been nearly thirty years since I took that course. I still believe in absolutes. But that is where my faith comes in and allows me to give some grace when dealing with people in real life, every day situations. Life is tough. Decisions have to be made every day. I don't know too many people who don't struggle with the really tough ones.

It isn't always easy, but I try to listen to people more today. I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I try real hard not to make them the enemy. The truth is that I have learned more by engaging people in conversations than I ever did trying to convince them I was right. Maybe we need to listen a bit more instead of always talking. Maybe we need to try and understand the other person, where they are coming from, why they think the way they do before we jump up and judge them.

I think Jesus set the bar for this kind of thinking. First off he took on the form of a human being so that he could walk in our shoes for a while. He wanted to really understand us. Then, even though he did not have any sin, he hung around with sinners and engaged them in conversation. He listened, without judgment. He loved them without conditions. When it was his turn to speak, he told them stories and made suggestions as to a better way to live and think. He reasoned with them. The funny thing is that the only people he ever got mad at were the very ones that he often agreed with theologically. Yet these people just didn't understand the nature of God's grace.

Grace. We need to exercise a little more grace in all our interactions with others. If the world did that, it would be a better place. Maybe people would agree to disagree but still work together for the good of God's creation.

I want to give you an example of one area where I did this. I do not believe the rhetoric around man's contribution to the problem of global warming. (I know there are several of you who want to slap me now for being so silly. I just don't believe the experts who are sounding the alarm. That is a discussion for another day.) Yet in listening to what they say, they have struck a chord with me. I have been convinced that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of this creation and that means we have to come together to do a better job with environmental concerns. So I am on board even if I don't buy into the argument. I am willing to work to make this a more green world. That's just me. Imagine if we all did a little less talking and little more listening. Some great things might be accomplished. Greater understanding could be achieve. We might even find a way to world peace.

So next time you hear someone say something you don't agree with, don't rise up to strike back. Listen and try to understand their point of view. Step into their shoes for a while and then see if you don't have some new insights into finding common ground for the common good.


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