Wow! We are facing some incredibly divisive issues in our nation at this time! Which candidate will ruin our nation? Which candidate will save our nation from ruin? Some insist that it dishonors our veterans and those who died in service to our nation for an athlete to sit during the National Anthem. Some argue that something must be done to draw attention to matters of injustice in our nation. Some insist that the value of certain lives must be highlighted because of ways in which those lives have been devalued in our society. Others argue that other lives must be granted equal respect. It seems that the irritation we feel toward those of opposite opinions is growing, that it is becoming more and more difficult for us to listen to each other or to respect one another beyond our disagreements.
I have, in my office, a cube with one word on each of the six sides of the cube. Anyway I place the cube, I can see no more than three words at a time. It is only by picking the cube up and turning it all around that I can find all six words and read the sentence they produce: “No one sees the whole picture.”
I keep this in my office to remind myself (and sometimes to remind others) that I am able to see part of the equation, while the person on the opposite side from me can see another part of the equation. The way to solve our problems is not by dividing up and grouping together with others who can only see the same side of the equation that I see, but by listening to each other, gaining from each other’s viewpoint, and figuring out how we can work together toward mutual solutions.
I have tended to dread conflict, to perceive conflict as a war in which each side is out to defeat the other. But there may be a better approach to conflict. In the Chinese language, the word for “conflict” is written by combining two terms: “danger” and “opportunity.” Yes, conflict includes danger. But that is not the only thing conflict includes. Conflict also includes opportunity. Conflict includes the opportunity for two people(s) to look at something from different vantage points so as to gain a more thorough understanding of it so as to come to better solutions to the problem.
Listening to one another in the midst of our disagreements is the essential starting point to conflict resolution.
William Stringfellow remarks, “Listening is a primitive act of love in which a person gives himself to another’s word, making himself accessible and vulnerable to that word.”
David Augsburger adds, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer stresses, “He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God, either.”
No wonder Jesus declares, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.”
In the midst of these divisive times, I hope that we will look upon our divisions as dangerous opportunities to learn how to listen to each other so as to see the fuller picture so as to come up with better solutions together.
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa. Pastor Tripp can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org