I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say.
Our problem isn’t our insatiable appetite for technology, that alienates us from true relationships – but it’s related to that. It isn’t our rabid political divisiveness – but that’s part of it. It’s not one particular person or cause. It’s not one absolute Thing that I can point to directly, but it is something I can prove beyond reasonable doubt.
Log on to Facebook. Right now. That’s your homework assignment. Go to the search bar and type in the name of a news site you follow, whether it be a traditional site (like CNN or Fox News) or more peripheral (like Fusion or Buzzfeed.) Choose a story that’s been recently published and read the comments. You’ll find lots of different opinions there, ranging from empirical to somewhat idiotic. And usually a lot of name-calling. It might get painful after awhie, depending on what news story you’re looking under.
What’s the goal of these comments? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment or resolve after reading through the entire thread? Absolutely not. In fact, you might feel a disdain for the human race after reading what people can come up with to bring down people they barely know.
They’re trying to get their opinion out there, but refusing to listen. It’s something you and I do too. It’s just easier to do now because of technology. It’s easy to shoot arrows at a straw man than a real one – and there’s a lot of straw men on the Internet. Eventually, it all turns into noise, and people stop paying attention.
Our greatest problem is that every person wants so badly to be heard that they forget to listen.
But it’s not only the Internet, friends. An Australian pastor spoke at my church shortly after the American election. The focus of his message was apologetics, something he feels strongly about since being converted as a teenager. He told us about how he was out with a non-Christian before a speaking engagement and found himself arguing with the non-Christian. He left the table feeling like he’d definitely won the argument and shown the other man his place –
But he felt no sense of accomplishment. Because “winning” isn’t the point.
He’d won the argument, but not the person. In fact, he might have turned that guy off to Christianity altogether. “Man, if they’re all like that pompous, self-righteous guy, I want nothing to do with that.”
This doesn’t just apply to Christianity or religion. Take a look:
“If all Republicans are woman-hating white guys, I’ll never listen to them. I want nothing to do with that. I hate them all.”
“If all Democrats are lying despots, they have nothing good to say. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”
“All pro-lifers have no idea what womens’ rights even means. They’re all evil. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”
“Conservatives all hate gay people. I don’t want anything to do with them. They’re all racist bigots. I hate them all.”
Just a few examples of the straw men we make for ourselves to feel better about our own beliefs.
If you think I’m pointing fingers, I am. I’m being blunt with you because most people are too afraid to be blunt these days. You could spend all day on the Facebook comments trying to win arguments. You won’t, even if you feel like you have. And worse than that, you won’t win the person either. You’re going to make them angrier. If you can’t win the person, you’re not going to win anything.
Hatred, name-calling, or questioning someone’s intelligence isn’t going to make them – or anyone else – listen to you. You’ll be heard, but you won’t be listened to. And you’ll cause deep wounds that breed more hatred. More retaliation.
In this life, you’ll come across people who disagree with you – vehemently. People who think they are right and will make sure everyone knows it. They will beg to be heard – “I have a voice too! Let me talk! Let me talk!” They’ll squelch anyone else who wants to add input – you’ve probably seen this before. (You might have done it before. I know I have. Most people have once or twice…or a lot.)
When this happens, it’s important to extend grace, not to try to talk over them, or insult them. That feeds their fire and gives them more arrows for their straw man. If you do, the cycle continues, and everyone starts shouting again, and progress screeches to a halt.
It’s okay to want to be heard. It’s okay to have a voice and to speak an opinion, even if it’s unpopular.
It’s not okay to step on other people or their views in order to do that. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, Christian, atheist. It is not okay.
I have a challenge for you: The next time you’re sitting with someone – be it a friend, colleague, acquaintance, it really doesn’t matter – I want you to listen to them. Actually listen. The minute you start formulating a response in your head before they’re done, stop yourself, and keep listening. Actually hear what they’re trying to tell you. Then respond. That’s one step toward both listening and being heard – two birds with one stone.
And if you use both of them together, you’ll create something we all desperately need right now: Understanding.