Are you a good listener, or do you jump to false conclusions? Go ahead and ask your wife/husband, …then continue reading. Urban legends are often designed to teach truths. Perhaps the most enduring lesson in communication comes from the well travelled legend of the arrogant ship master (Typically US Navy) and the lighthouse (Typically Canadian). You probably know the transcript:
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a Collision.
Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States’ Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that YOU change your course 15 degrees north, that’s one five degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.
Political positions typically get emotional and heated. We have all seen this on the nightly news. Often this is accompanied by a collapse of careful thinking. Coming to blows emotionally, the first casualty of the fight is objectivity regarding another position. For example Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have each accused the other of engaging in a “war on women” (link).
Very often a person assumes that their own internal definition of the facts is in truth what their opponent is proposing. But, simply reading the other person, or listening to their statements shows that they clearly do not believe the position the first person is attributing to them. In the example given above, Obama clearly views himself as a champion of “women’s rights”, in certain areas of traditional feminist priorities, while Romney considers himself a champion of the “moral rights” and “economic rights” of women. When each views the other through their own grid, they come to a rather bleak assessment of each other.
Before we castigate the politicians, Christians often have to look in the mirror at themselves, as the only place that seems to match political emotionally driven infighting is the Church. Christians are to be known as “people of peace” and recognized by “love toward one another”. James instructs, “…my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,slow to anger” (James 1:19), yet the opposite is too often the case.
Each of us must labour to fight against this fleshly impulse, for one very important reason. God commands us to keep the peace in the body of Christ:
…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV).
Christians should “defend the faith” and “fight for truth” in reflection of the principles that Jesus commanded and the Apostles demonstrated (see Jude 3). But they should do so in a way different from the unregenerate politicians of this world. A distinction should be made between doctrinal clarification and the defence of the faith. Paul confronted Peter (Galatians 2:11), yet the two continued to be friends and respect each other (see 2 Peter 3:15).
Second, while truth is indeed black and white, people’s positions are not necessarily so. Have you ever had a conversation that seemed to be going nowhere? You might talk at each other from cross purposes and then find you both leave disappointed in the conversation.
When dealing with programs and doctrines we are impassioned about, it is critical that we ask clarifying questions and seek to understand the point of view and definitions being used by the person we disagree with. An earlier post this week spoke of another current doctrinal discussion and very accurately summarized the two positions, in a way that was very helpful (Discern Don’t Burn).
How have you worked at being an attentive listener to others who disagree with you?