To everything there is a season and this is a time for listening.
So I was pleased to hear the reconciling words of Sen. Marco Rubio last week, who acknowledged that despite decades of racial progress on many fronts, “millions of our fellow Americans feel they are treated differently, and they are scared.”
He urged Americans to stop stoking fear and anger, saying:
“We can feed this anger through posts on social media and careless words. We can stoke the fear by choosing sides and squaring off. We can choose to continue to divide ourselves along the lines of class, or race, or partisan politics. …
“We Americans are a complicated, imperfect, and diverse people. We most certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything, and not everyone is pure of heart. But I truly believe that the vast majority of us all want the same things.”
I agree with Marco Rubio about 15 percent of the time at most, but I’m all in with him on this, mindful that some of my own, more stridently liberal friends will dismiss Rubio, who is running for Senate (after vowing he wouldn’t), of political expediency.
And Newt Gingrich, btw, was equally graceful and reconciling in his reaction to all the race-related carnage last week. Good for him.
I say that as an incorrigible political junkie and political observer who has long loathed Newt Gingrich’s politics and I’ll call out him or Rubio or, for that matter, a Clinton or Obama, if I see them as playing fast and loose with the truth.
But I’ve never believed that everybody in politics or punditry (and certainly not in religion!) is always right or always wrong.
Even that old broken clock gets it right twice a day.
At some point we have to let go of our hyper-cynical mistrust of each other and find a way of engaging without holding hammers over each other’s heads.
Everybody’s denigrating and demeaning every body else and nobody’s listening to each other the way full-grown adults are supposed to do.
Nobody seems to want to do the hard work of working out conflict by sitting down and listening to one another.
Which is understandable.
What’s so hard about the art of listening at any level–personal or private or in public–is the requirement that I let my guard down, remaining open to your candidness.
As a real listener I’m required to stand in vulnerability and yield some time and space to hear what you have to say and not what I want to believe you’re saying out of your wrong-headness, which might be my own wrong-headedness.
That’s a daunting requirement. It’s so much easier for me get defensive by responding to you with a crushing offense before you’re even through talking.
Gosh, if I let you speak too frankly to me, I might have to take a hard look at myself in the mirror.
And I don’t want to look at myself in the mirror and see anything that’s not admirable.
* * *
Here’s how the cycle goes:
I get defensive because I don’t want to hear any hard truths about myself and my convictions. That would make me uncomfortable and might give me some pain.
God forbid, it might make me feel weak. And I ain’t no Namby-Pamby shrinking violet. I ain’t no loser.
In conflict, I’m gonna be the winner every time out of the gate.
I going to pound you with the truth that you so obviously don’t want to face up to.
You can’t possibly be right about anything you have to say.
You are so wrong in your position that it’s my mission as a truth teller, by God, to get your mind right.
We all know that “the truth hurts.” So I’ll inflict all the hurt I can on you by hitting you with the truth that you by-God don’t want to hear.
I’ve got a lock on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So be warned, if you somehow hit on a truth about me, that hurtful truth is going to bounce right off my flak jacket and I’m coming at you again with more shouting, screaming, blaming, accusing and name calling because the truth about me is too scary and uncomfortable for me to face.
The trouble with this win-or-lose approach is that even tough-minded debate is not about winning or losing in the first place.
It’s about defusing or resolving conflicting convictions in such a way that even if the truth hurts we won’t walk away bleeding from words that are as hurtful as bullets to the psyche.
* * *
Spiritual maturity is “ego-strength”–the ability to withstand criticism whether it’s fair or not, constructive or not–without feeling threatened, without getting scared and angry with a vengeance.
Ego-strength gives me the ability to let go of the side of my ego that so wants to dominate others–that “shadow side” where my own imperfections are buried so deep that I can’t see them myself.
Ego-strength empowers me to let my guard down and listen so openly to you as to take in whatever legitimate point you might make and momentarily sit with it without feeling humiliated by you no matter how angry or candid you may get.
Jesus had the healthiest, strongest ego of anyone who ever lived. In making himself vulnerable, humbling himself all the way to the cross, he was incapable of being humiliated by anyone’s words or actions. Paul understood this so well in acknowledging that in his weakness he was plenty strong.
Nobody can rightfully accuse Jesus of being weak or anything less than very tough-minded. Like him, we can live in the tension of tough-mindedness and love, grace and humility.
* * *
If I have the ego-strength to take even a moment to think before I speak (or hit the send button on social media)–if I can hear what you actually said to me without a reactionary punch. . . maybe we can find a path to common ground.
Maybe we can start to talk about how to resolve our differences in creative ways.
The art of listening doesn’t require that I engage you in conflict from a position of weakness that makes me your doormat.
To the contrary, as counter-intuitive as it may be, if I can listen openly to you by seeing you as equal to me in your humanity, I’m engaging you from the center-point of a strong but healthy ego.
If I can remain mindful that we’re both made in the image of God and that we’re both flawed, imperfect human beings, we can work things out by imagining new ways of living together in healthy ways.
We can imagine alternative routes to arrive at that point where, as Marco Rubio said, “we all want the same things.”