Choosing to Listen
“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.” (Proverbs 18:13 NASB)
“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17 NASB)
One of the special moments of this year has been seeing my oldest daughter complete graduate school. She is an accomplished professional in her field, and now has the academic credentials to go along with her experience. My daughter helps children with autism learn to function in a world that doesn’t understand them very well. I am very proud of her not only for what she does, but for the person she has become. Because of her, it was worth the effort to drive to upstate New York and cheer as she walked across the stage to receive her degree. Yet the occasion imparted to me an unexpected lesson.
My teacher was the commencement speaker: a famous social justice warrior who is a frequent contributor on a major news network. Her views do not reflect my own, and it was clear from reading her bio that we come down on opposite sides of the political spectrum. I surmise we also have different opinions regarding moral, social, and economic issues. That was why I did not know her name. She has spent much of her career in New York City and Africa helping the underprivileged, while I have spent much of my career in the American South, Europe, and the Middle East in military service. To use the labels currently popular in our vocabulary, she is liberal and I am conservative.
One would expect this woman and I to be opposed to one another on just about any topic. So we would be, had I not listened carefully to her remarks. I heard in her speech not only the words of an accomplished professional in her field, but her heartfelt passion to do good for people. As she described her own upbringing, I detected themes common in my own: our awareness of things that just aren’t right in society; our desire to help people achieve their potential; and an anguish that the realities of life cause us to make compromises between our ideals and the possibilities dictated by circumstances. Compromised values, it seems, are not exclusive to people on my side of the political fence – or on my side of the spiritual fence either.
As I listened, I realized that I had not given any credit to people like this woman. Even though her perspectives and conclusions differ from my own, her motivation is very much the same. It is born of real life experiences that highlight the contrast between what should be and what is. That being the case, is it possible that we could find a way to cooperate on some things? Could it be that each of us has something the other needs? Are we, perhaps, incomplete without one another? Is that why the misery of this world continues – because the solutions offered by each side are only partial solutions at best, and if not coupled with the perspective of the other side are doomed to failure?
Maybe, before automatically dismissing someone who is radically different from myself, I should first listen to what they are saying. Maybe I should be willing to have my opinions challenged, and even changed if there is a better way. If I do that, then maybe I can gain some standing in the other person’s eyes and have reason to speak the truth of our Heavenly Father into their life.
Albert J. McCarn
** FOR REVIEW