Let’s Start a Conversation, Not a War

I’ve often wondered why people tell me things. There were times I’d be sitting in my favourite cafe, Stones Throw, perched at the bar behind the coffee machine working at my laptop. Other regulars would also sit there next to me. Some of us would see each other’s faces regularly – but never more than a hello, or a smile of acknowledgment would come from us. Then on occasion, maybe once every fortnight, there’d be someone whose face seemed more desolate than other times I’d seen them, and all I would ask is – “How are you doing?” and this stranger would spill the beans and talk for a good 30minutes to an hour. I wondered, is it my face? Do I come across as approachable? Maybe so, but mostly I think it was that I was willing to listen. I would never really give much advice, but would always simply acknowledge their pain, their season, their circumstance, and let them know – they can find me here most days if they ever needed to chat again. This would not just happen at the cafe but most places and arenas I would be in. In this season of my life, sadly I have noticed, that that sort of listening ear isn’t as much a part of our society as I once thought it was.

We are living in very loud, unforgiving and unrelenting days. Politically, Publicly and Privately, one thing seems to be happening less and less – listening, listening to people who are different from us. We wave flags, chant chants and post slogans, engage in rhetoric, but to what end? Have we lost the art of the conversation? The quality of respect? The love for fellow humanity, no matter how different they seem? Many of us demand that it is our right to be heard and speak up, but is it not merely noise pollution if we are muting the voices of those who disagree with us?

Confession time. There have been moments in these past three months where I have shut down, silenced and even blocked people from having a conversation with me. Frequently their message would consist of something along the lines of; “Just needed to tell you that I love you. But I also need to tell you that I don’t agree with your choices or that you believe homosexuality is not a sin…” (Even as I write this, Grammarly has asked me, “Want to sound more diplomatic? Try: “I respect your point, but I don’t know if I agree.” A computer understands how poorly this language comes across!) This type of message was frequently, but not always, met with a “Thank you for your love. I don’t mind that you don’t agree. That’s what makes our world so diverse. Can I ask you one question? Have you actually studied this topic in any depth or have you just settled for what’s been told to you in your youth group days? If you haven’t looked into it, that’s ok, but I honestly don’t place any weight or concern on your disagreeing with me. If you have, I’d love to catch up and have a conversation and hear what each other have found.” I’ve never heard back from one person after writing something like that, not even the inflatable thumbs up in messenger.

Here’s the thing about good listening to those who hold a different view to you. It’s not one-sided; it’s active, and it’s educated. It’s a conversation. A conversation where you don’t seek to be heard more than you seek to hear. A conversation where you don’t seek to persuade more than you seek to grow. A conversation where you give the topic prior thought and logical thinking and not just rely on hearsay or tradition. A conversation where you share your views in response to rather than forcing your views in reaction to.

Often we are willing to uneducatedly share that post on Facebook, of which I’ve done a thousand times (even recently), or speak about something we don’t really know anything about, simply because the opposing view contradicts something we see as foundational to our value system, way of life or traditions. Because the topic presses buttons of fear, discomfort, or even makes us feel comforted or better about our foundation, we speak up without all the facts. It just adds to the noise, doesn’t help ourselves grow and learn, and doesn’t do anything for the cause we are fighting for anyway.

This is why I wasn’t interested in conversation with people I thought were uneducated fools (don’t throw your pearls to pigs) or blind sheep (who follow people without investigation). It’s a waste of both of our time. I’ve heard their views on why what I’m doing is a sin, because, without study, it’s the basic argument, that even I used to carry and share. And they feel that it’s both their obligation to tell me this “truth in love” and also to persuade me to rethink and hopefully repent, both of which aren’t going to happen without deep thought and healthy conversation, but may never happen. I have, however, jumped at the invites from people who have approached me with – “Aaron, I’d love to meet and hear about your journey this past little while.” Even when I’ve known, or at least assumed, that they don’t agree with anything that has happened. This sort of message shows an openness to dialogue that can be respectful and see the two of us grow. Not just have me feel like the wicked little sinner who needs to change his ways and learn from the holy and upright hypocrite.

I know that the above example is my personal experience, and may sound harsh, but I believe that it translates to most topics for most issues where individuals disagree. We either go in uneducated, because our foundations feel threatened, so we speak up, only to be met with someone who has given the topic a substantial amount of thought and we know little to nothing. Or, we go in with an attitude of wanting a win, only to be met by someone else who also wants to win.

Going into win is a dangerous pursuit. Sadly it’s what we see all around the world and is taking us to the brink of disaster. As society becomes increasingly polarised and each side of any of the current loud issues (race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, abortion, euthanasia etc.) only want to win, we become more polarised from each other, and neither side truly knows or understands the other side as individuals or people of value at all. This sort of behaviour turns us into animals, beasts who care little about the person opposite us, and more about making a meal of them and their opinions.

Rather than going into win, a great alternative is going in to ask “why?” You could be shocked as you encounter real people behind the argument. People who have painful reasons as to “why” they hold their view. People who have legitimate and logical reasons to be standing where they are. People who have done their homework and have just as much evidence to be standing on that side of the fence as you do standing on yours. People who value different things to you, none of them wrong, that you would come to see if instead of seeking a win you sought the why. Humanity would be far better off right now if we went in with the question “Why?” and were actually willing to listen and hear out the answer, searching for the person behind the propaganda.

It takes a courageous and humble person to do the latter. It takes a genuinely good human being to listen with the intent to see the person rather than argue. Especially when we think that we don’t want to hear their point of view, or that we know they will come with a “want to win” mindset. Know this; if you went in with the right heart, you might be the person who breaks down the walls and defences in the other person and help them to want to hear you in return.

Let’s start a conversation, not a war.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *