As part of my annual New Year tradition, rather than making resolutions about doing better, I adopt a “Word” that will serve as my inspiration and aspiration for the coming year. I jokingly refer to it as the “Theme” of my next year, like a One-Word Mission Statement to be a focal point for concentration, meditation and prayer.
Last year, the word was “Perspective.”
By adopting this word, I hoped to gain clarity about what was happening in our country. I needed objectivity, to understand those who had such differing beliefs and opinions than mine.
Perspective is not always about what we see; it's about seeing beyond the surface.
So I determined to ask questions.
I make a commitment to listen.
And I did.
(Well, most of the time.)
Whether the conversation was about faith-related matters (e.g., Bible, Jesus, etc.) or culture (e.g., gay rights, same-sex marriage) or politics, I’ve seriously and sincerely tried to expand past…beyond…my own observations. I have not abandoned my own convictions or values, but I honestly made the attempt to see discussions from another…a different…perspective.
I resisted my urge to cut someone off too quickly, just because we didn’t agree.
I wanted to understand motives, needs.
I sought reasons and explanations.
I wanted their perspective.
I asked questions. Lots of questions.
I requested reasons.
At times, I insisted on verification or evidence.
My intention was not to argue, but to see a different perspective.
Usually, the conversation remained civil, though occasionally, it degenerated. (Proudly, it was rarely from my end of the discussion.) I would maintain interaction as long as there wasn’t name-calling, shaming, personal attacks, etc. (I have strict personal policies about such matters!)
Like the old parable of a group of blind people examining an elephant for the first time, I noted a couple of incidents when it came down to merely seeing, and emphasizing, different elements of the same issue.
For example, in conversations about the Second Amendment, I wanted to focus on the “well-armed militia” aspect as evidence that what we’re seeing now is completely out of control with what our founders intended.
However, those who are passionate on the other side of this issue read the same Amendment and concentrate on the “right to bear arms.”
On another occasion, I was pointing out that Jesus spent far less time talking about “sin” than we hear today in the Conservative/Fundamental Church, and that His attitude was much more forgiving and compassionate. I used the story of the woman caught in adultery, where Jesus told the woman that He didn’t condemn her. However, the other person in the conversation continued to emphasize that Jesus told the woman to “go and sin no more.”
I heard Jesus as loving; she heard Him emphasizing behavior.
I saw grace, she saw rules!
(A theological version of glass half full/half empty?)
I’m not sure if I brought about any real changes in those with whom I had conversations last year. Too many times, what I learned…what I re-learned…is that prejudice and indoctrination and fear are difficult to overcome in short, impersonal discussions. Certainly not in an online venue.
But changing others is not the point of my annual endeavor.
It’s about getting to know myself.
For 2017, I wanted to understand. I wanted to broaden my perspective.
Did that happen?
I probably lack the objectivity to speak accurately, but I can say that in those times when I choose to ask questions rather than reject, to listen rather than rebuff, my heart got involved. Mentally/Intellectually, I could easily offer rebuttals to many of the lame arguments, doctrines and excuses I heard, but I would do so without being touched by the person who clung so tenaciously to them.
Yes, it was still frustrating and maddening. Often terrifying.
But by hearing them, I could remember: I came from a similar background, I’d held similar beliefs. Ideology was tied to identity. Security. And sometimes, eternity.
While I disagreed, I could relate. Empathize. They were not my enemy.
They became more…human.
And maybe, so did I.
Happy New Year!