“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people”—Richard Foster
As we get more connected to people and information, it looks like we’re becoming more judgmental and less gracious with people and ideas that we disagree with.
The religious can’t conceal their distaste for people who reject their defined view of justice, truth and God. The non-religious can’t conceal their intolerance of people who don’t accept their views of the same. The religious are quarantined until they are cured of their religion and the non-religious are demonised until they are ready to accept religion.
In a just society, we could expect to reason with respect, ask questions without being argumentative and disagree without becoming defensive. But a just society is hard to find; even harder to create.
We live in times where disagreement is equated with disassociation, disrespect, dismissal and demonisation. Few can be friends with their ideological adversaries. Even fewer can hold them in high regard.
I began conversations about important questions in the manner of a teenage zealot—spamming everyone I knew with urgent pleas to mend their ways and sincere appeals to change their minds. It was zeal without knowledge, faith without love, truth without grace. I was wrong in more ways than can be numbered.
But after a season of personal doubt, despair and discouragement, I discovered the nature of a deep conversation by taking a long hard look at the way Jesus spoke to people.
He was stern with the self-righteous and patient with the social outcast. He resisted a large following in favor of a faithful one and preferred a genuine question to a heated argument. He knew when to ask important questions and how to offer compelling answers. He was shrewd without being stubborn, clear without being condescending and calm when he was being castigated.
Jesus’s conversations with people seem to confirm John’s introduction to Him—full of grace and truth.
It’s what makes Him the most exclusive and inclusive person at the same time. He affirmed the exclusive nature of truth and revealed the inclusive nature of grace.
He didn’t measure tolerance by how we relate to ideas, demanding that we accept everything—all our values along with injustice and hypocrisy. He measured it by how we relate to people, commanding that we love everyone—all our friends and even our enemies.
It took a while to realise that the urge to be defensive, argumentative and intolerant came from insecurities in my own nature. It was a sign that I was shallow. It took a longer while to move towards being gracious, patient and reasonable by drawing from the depth of a better Nature.
It’s no easy task to learn how to listen without waiting for your turn to speak. But it was no great alternative to showcase an intolerance that betrayed the nature of a greater grace.
Since then some of the richest conversations and rewarding relationships I have had are the ones with people who have tough questions, serious doubts and sharp disagreements with my worldview.
A genuine relationship isn’t improved by side-stepping what we believe. It’s deepened by making room for the “other”, inviting them to speak freely and promising to listen to them patiently.
It may not change our minds but it will move our hearts. It will reveal common values that hide under discordant beliefs. It will show us that people cannot be reduced to their beliefs and should not be confined to their cliques.
The divisive narratives of the media, segregated thought colonies of culture and self-righteous tones of religion will not be subverted by shallow people who are offended too easily, but by a depth of character that can take a hit, turn the cheek and love by listening its way through a tough conversation. It is no simple task but there is no better way. It is no painless journey but there is no greater reward.
Image Credit: Tim Pierce