The world has never been more polarized. Mask or no mask, Republican or Democrat, the question of pineapple on pizza, everyone has a position. A simple Google search can find countless websites and memes to back any opinion you like. The problem is, life is a lot more complicated than black and white views; life is full of gray. The idea of empathy, seeking to understand the other person’s position, understanding the gray areas, has been lost by too many people. If people spent more time listening and less time expressing opinions, the world would be better off.
Obviously, there is a correct position in many situations. Corruption, murder, sexual immorality, etc. are wrong, not a lot of gray areas here. There are clearly some absolutes. God is good; God loves us; God wants what’s best for us through a relationship with Him. Divine truth. The problem is, SOOO much of this world lands in the gray.
Orphan care is an excellent example of a wide range of passionate opinions. I know people, who I respect deeply, who REALLY hate orphanages. “A child should never be in an orphanage; they need to stay with family, end of story!” “Everything should be done to keep a family together and a child out of the system!” The problem is, it’s not always that simple. When I ask if a child should stay in a home with a sexually abusive uncle or mom’s latest meth-addicted boyfriend, they’ll start to buckle a little. Family is NOT always the best option. I wish all families were a safe place, but that’s not reality. Many families are horrifically messed up. But the decision of when to remove a child requires Solomon like wisdom. These decisions land in the “gray” area. Some positions require research, empathy, and a deeper understanding of the issues. Even when we KNOW we are in the right; we need to understand the other side.
Jesus knew everything about everyone. He was always right. It would have been easy for Jesus to express His opinions and dictate to everyone around Him what they should do. Jesus was better than that, He cared about others through all of their faults. He knew better than anyone that the people around Him were broken and sinful, but He still listened. Through His interactions, He showed that He wanted to have a relationship with others, a give and take. He showed His love by listening. “What do you seek?” Yes, He taught a lot and was very clear, but He also listened a great deal. Listening, genuinely paying attention to someone else, is a very loving act. Jesus drew people to Him through His compassion. I’m not sure if most Christians today are known for compassionate listening. Too many people will only listen to what reinforces their own opinions. We need to do better.
There is a pastor in the northwest who I used to genuinely respect. The strength of his convictions and his willingness to take risks for the Gospel was amazing. We all need more of these qualities. Over the last year or so, his hourly social media blasts have become increasingly angry, divisive, judgmental, and self-righteous. These are not qualities that represent Christ well. His very public and abrasive attitude bothers me more than it should, but I feel that talking to him would be pointless. He gave up listening to anyone a long time ago.
Here are a couple of ideas to help work towards a little less polarization and showing a little more of Christ’s willingness to listen:
1) Turn off the news and have a conversation with someone. If you don’t see this as an option, do something genuinely radical, watch the “other” news channel for a portion of the time. If you’re a FOX news fan, try watching CNN for a while. If you’re a die-hard CNN fan, watch FOX sometimes. But don’t just watch to pick it apart, watch it to try to understand another perspective. Why are “they” passionate about supporting Trump? Why are “they” sure Trump is evil? Does the “other side” have a point or two? Sometimes things are gray. (Just me writing this paragraph, and pointing out we all have something to learn, is going to anger some people.)
2) Be careful with your social media posts. No one changes their stance on major issues because they read a snarky meme. How do political memes or attacking the “opposition” help or encourage anyone? Maybe we should shoot higher than just getting “likes” from people who think exactly like us. We need to encourage others, listen to others, find out why they feel as strongly as they do. We need to listen. We need higher goals than being the one with the best put-downs and “gotchas” on social media.
Too many people have forgotten that we are not supposed to be of this world; we are part of something bigger. Does it matter THAT much if we’re asked to wear a mask in a store? We fight over shiny and trendy things that have no value when the riches of heaven are ours. The enemy is very effective at distracting us. He’s good at fooling us into thinking we’re fighting the good fight when we’re just wasting our time on this earth. We need to do better. We need to understand the people on the “other side” who God deeply loves.