This past week there was a mass shooting at a recruitment office. Once again my Facebook feed was filled with takes on the situation. So I played a game. I simply looked at the name of the friend on my feed, or the organization, and guessed what their take would be, or what type of article they would post. I was right, pretty much every time. We have our positions, and we pretty much don’t change. Which is fine. But one question keeps popping up in my mind: are we each so ensconced in our positions that we can no longer hear what someone who differs with us is thinking and feeling?
Let me stick with the issue of gun control, since it is not controversial at all. Once we have decided our position, can we empathize with someone who feels differently?
One person sees shootings at schools, churches and movie theaters and fears this happening again. They wonder why we don’t do more to stop it. Perhaps they fear for the safety of their children or students. Can’t we all admit that is a legitimate fear?
Someone else looks at history. They see how political regimes have turned on their people or a sub group of people, then trampled and destroyed those defenseless souls. They fear that a population without weapons is defenseless and could fall victim to mass slayings. Can’t we all admit that is a legitimate fear?
No. No we can’t.
Because to admit that the “other side” has legitimate fears, ideas or arguments is a sign of weakness. We can’t give an inch. We must keep them painted in a corner. We must not allow them a moment of respite, an inch of ground, a bit of respect. Because, we have to win. After all, we are right.
That is where we are, and it doesn’t matter the issue.
But how is any of that Christian? When we refuse to listen, we cannot possibly claim to also love our neighbor. When we refuse to admit that the other side has a legitimate case, we become liars and deceivers. When we act like anyone who thinks differently is idiotic, selfish, or delusional, we put ourselves in the seat of judgment, claiming we know better than everyone else, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
How do we expect the world to listen to us talk about Jesus, when we refuse to hear someone else’s side?
By the way, before you begin feeling smug, thinking “my side or group doesn’t do that”, yeah it does. It does. Because this isn’t a democrat or republican problem. It isn’t a conservative or liberal problem. It certainly isn’t a church going or atheist problem. It is a human problem.
Somehow we have become convinced that listening to the point of actually hearing the other sides ideas makes us weak. We truly believe that acknowledging the other side makes some good points or has some legitimate claims is an admission of defeat. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Just because I listen well to my wife, and really try to understand her, and try to get her thoughts and feelings, and put myself in her shoes, doesn’t mean she is right. (I mean she is right, but that is another blog post.) No, by listening I am not “giving away the high ground.” I am simply doing the right and loving thing. It is by listening that I may actually gain the right to say something. It is by understanding her view that we begin to find common ground for solving the problem.
Listening in such a way as to actually seek understanding is in short supply these days. If you choose to listen, and try to actually feel for “the other side” don’t worry. There are plenty of people who will refuse to do so and will make sure your position is consistently defended. Leave that to them. Instead, choose to hear, to feel, to empathize. Who knows, you might even find out you were wrong. Oh no, that couldn’t possibly happen.