Is it just me, or is the world getting louder and angrier? It seems no matter which way you turn, from Twitter to Facebook to the news, someone is shouting to have their view point or their cause heard. Someone is pointing a finger to shame. Others are simply tuning out and turning off.
How do we, as Christians, engage in the important matters of the world, our country and our hometown in a way that honors Jesus? The answer may surprise you.
If you want to be heard, listen.
Working for Compassion International, I have had the great privilege of hearing people’s stories for over a decade. I’ve interviewed celebrities, unknown Middle-American moms, children displaced by war, inspiring pastors and subsistence farmers in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
All that listening has taught me one beautiful thing: We all have a story. We all have a valuable perspective to share — no matter our income, political party, gender, age, country or pet cause. We all can learn from one another.
I think that’s why Jesus was so attractive to the rag-tag bunch of people who followed him. He saw each person, no matter who they were, from an outcast woman with a menstrual disorder to a hated member of the government. He affirmed their worth and their place by seeing and hearing them. And Jesus is, arguably, the most heard person in the history of the world.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God. The second is to love your neighbor. And his definition of “neighbor” is broad – encompassing people we might consider our enemies.
As Christ-followers, we are called to see the humanity in each person and our mutuality as image-bearers of God. To respect and value one another, no matter how different we are. In short, to view everyone as our neighbor. Only then can a true exchange of ideas occur.
Here are 12 ways we can do that.
- Respect all people. If people don’t believe you value them and their thoughts, there can be no real conversation. When you’re in a discussion, focus on the person more than you focus on your ideas and what you’re going to say next.
- Never name call. When you insult a person rather than discuss ideas, it’s called an ad hominem attack. (“The people who believe in that are idiots.”) This is a fast-track to not being heard. It’s near impossible to hear someone else’s perspective when you’re being insulted by them. As Proverbs says, “A gentle tongue can break a bone.” When we are kind in our communication, we are more likely to have real, long-term impact on others.
- Don’t guess motivations. Related to name-calling, this happens when we say, “They only think that because they’re…” Sometimes when guessing people’s motivations, we are believing the very worst about people. And how can we truly engage with one another when we’re doing that?
- Don’t approach a conversation with a self-righteous stance. When we come to a discussion assuming we hold the moral high ground, we are subtly closing ourselves off to hearing the other person, to considering why they might have a different perspective to us. It’s a conversation ender and it repels people who believe differently. Be open to learning. Each person offers a unique story and perspective; be open to God using them to hone your own perspective.
- Sarcasm never works. I used to be a master of sarcasm. I could craft the best zingers to really stick it to people, an ugly skill indeed. Sarcasm relies on the inference that someone who believes what your “opponent” believes is an idiot. (See point 2.) Yes, it might make people who agree with you slap you on the back and guffaw, but it will turn away any real chance for discourse with people who are different from you.
- Listen to people’s stories. We each believe as we do, not only because of our faith and values, but also because of a complex set of life experiences and environments. None of us are a blank slate. I have been surprised and learned so much by listening to people’s very diverse life experiences and how they have impacted the way they view the world.
- Listen, in general. Think about someone who always talks, talks, talks and never seems to listen. Is that someone you want to be around, let alone learn from? If we want to be heard, we must hear others.
- Ask questions. Jesus was a great model of this. A great question to start with is, “Can you tell me a little bit about why this issue/cause is so important to you?”
- Share your own story. Abstract ideas are important, but by sharing your own story, you will allow yourself to be seen by the other person. They are more likely to extend empathy and grace when, in vulnerability, you share yourself rather than only touting concepts.
- Know when to walk away. Sometimes we need to set healthy boundaries. Some people do this by turning off social media. Others may do this by acknowledging that there’s a certain relationship in their life that isn’t in a healthy place for mutually beneficial dialog. Extend yourself and the other person a spirit of grace by leaving it be.
- Keep learning these skills over a lifetime. As an opinionated and sensitive person, these skills are something I am learning haltingly, step by step. If you’re like me, you’re going to fail a lot. Study yourself to realize what bad habits you might have. Ask God to continue shaping you to love more and more like Him.
- Keep it in perspective. It’s easy to get consumed with what we think is the most important issue in the world. National politics, gender imbalance, poverty, racism. These all matter. They matter because they are issues affecting people — and we are called to love people. But let’s not allow our zeal for these important issues to blind us to the real person in front of us.
If we were to take these ideas and boil them down into one point, it would be this: less focus on self, and more focus on others.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
And overall, remember that God reigns. God is love. God is just. Let us keep our eyes on Him as we follow and walk forward in love.
P.S. My perspective is incomplete! Several of these points were added by friends. What would you add?