How to Change the World by Listening
The Modern Pilgrim #17- Pilgrim celebrates her victories in the wilderness but is fatigued. Battle-weary she foolishly accepts an invitation to visit the luxurious Palace of Pride and rest awhile. Here she discovers that since each member of the court thinks their story the best, everyone speaks continuously, but no one listens.
There is much debate, some civil, much not, about world and local events and how we should respond. Most of it virtual. Not in person. We can block, unfollow or delete anyone if they ruffle us. We don’t have to listen to their words. Sometimes this is necessary with abusive speech but what about folks who simply disagree with me? I smell a rotten root of pride.
Pride that will not consider opposing views.
Pride which is impatient with someone else’s story.
Pride that keeps us from seeing the people behind the words.
Pride that doesn’t want to invest enough energy into someone to understand them and their beliefs.
After all, Pride tells us, our opinions are correct, our stories most interesting and our time more valuable. Pride creates terrible listeners.
The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try and experiment. To each person who came down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.”
It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
Active listening is harder for some than others. I’m in the listening-challenged group on my best days. The struggle becomes real when someone shares an opposing view with me. As an enneagram one, I am continuously shutting down an inner voice that needs to be “right,” about everything. All the time. Everywhere. With everyone.
When God puts his thumb on a weakness, I start to search the Bible for ideas and insights. Why am I such a poor listener when people disagree with me? My first thoughts wandered towards Jesus and his listening skills. How did he hear people with opposing ideas and moral values?
- He listened without taking offense. (John 4)
The women at the well didn’t respond politely when Jesus asked for water. “Why are you a Jew, asking me a Samaritan, for a drink?” I’d probably mutter, “I’ll get my own drink,” at that point. Jesus listened to pain behind the snarky. Ugly things in her life compelled her to go to the well when others weren’t around. Jesus knew that and chose to sit, listen, and engage.
We don’t know most people’s back stories. Our reaction is to withdraw from ugliness. But, hard-tongued people may choose to live destructively because they do not understand that they don’t have to. Jesus understood that. With this woman and other sinners, he pressed in and listened.
- He listened by asking key questions. (Luke 24:17-20).
Jesus knew everything about his crucifixion and resurrection, yet he asked questions about it with the two heartbroken disciples on the Emmaus Road. I believe he wanted to help them express their feelings and doubts while challenging their faith. This was a pattern for him. Sometimes we don’t know what’s in our hearts until someone asks the right questions.
- He listened to, and answered “gotcha,” questions that came from evil motives.
In Matthew 19, the Pharisees are not interested in Jesus’ views on divorce. They are attempting to entrap him. He knows. He listens and answers anyway. When people come at me with insincere questions, which mock my beliefs, I’ve historically reacted poorly. What might happen in the future if I take the time to respond, as Jesus did, instead of reacting? People attack believers for several reasons.
They are fearful we are right, and they are wrong. This has huge implications for their lives.
They are power brokers who see you and your beliefs as a threat. You are a disrupter to their paradigms and power structures.
They are wounded people, manhandled by religion, sometimes even believers. You are part of the crowd who hurt them.
Can I stay calm in the face of life’s ugliness and speak peacefully as Jesus did? Can I listen to the Spirit in that moment, who will reveal the truth hiding behind nasty questions? By God’s grace and through the Spirit, yes. Isn’t it better for me to err on the side of looking foolish than coming across as intractable?
Our societal dialogue right now is like the bloodier stories from the history of the American West. Lots of cowboys shootin’ at each other with minimal meaningful conversation. I want to be like famous sheriff, Bill Tilgham. His humility and calm approach to law enforcement became legendary in the Old West, admired even by Wyatt Earp and Bill Hickock. Only as a last resort did Sheriff Tilghman use his guns. His shooting skills were exceptional, but he used them sparingly.
Some of my understandings and opinions are askew, most likely. Will I pridefully defend them going forward or consider others who might have a clue, and listen to their ideas? How can you change online and live conversations in your world by listening better? Change the conversations, change the world.
Listen better to the stories behind shattered hearts and ugly words. Earn the right to point them to Jesus. Change the world.