Talking Past Each Other

I can hardly stand to watch one of the news networks, regardless of which point of view they are coming from. It is actual hard enough for me to watch a lot of ESPN Sportscenter sometimes as well - you know, when they take 1 minute to show limited highlights from a game, and then comment on it for the next 15 minutes. As if what I really care about is not what actually happened, but what these experts think/speculate/guess it MEANS. You know, how everyone on ESPN thought the Philadelphia Eagles were guaranteed success just like the Miami Heat were with their offseason free-agents. TV, and the internet (this blog included - I know the irony of the subject!), has somehow given everyone a voice in which they feel they can comment on events. There is a major positive to this, but also the negative, in which rhetoric and hyperbole have overtaken the real issues facing us.

Politics is a perfect example of this. I am tired of hearing candidates speak with such fervor about things that if we just stop, pause, and think for a second, we can see how the situation is a little more complex. The stereotyping and characterization of the "other side," places people into extreme categories that honestly are not what is held by most who hold to that belief/theory. Take politics, for example. Republicans often feel like Democrats just want to give people hand-outs instead of allowing people to work for what they earn. Yet, this is not really the platform of those on the left. Similarly, the left often categorizes those on the right as uncaring or even oppressive of the rights of others for the sake of economic or cultural security. These characterizations both hold some weight, yet neither do they fully understand the true beliefs of the other side.

In other words - they Talk Past Each Other. 

Talking past each other oversimplifies topics.

Talking past each other doesn't even require the other to be present.

Talking past each other doesn't require listening, except to hear a point on which to immediately reject or counter.

Talking past each other condescends the other person (I am right, and you are wrong).

Talking past each other leaves no room for learning from the other person/side.

I don't mean to single out politics as the source of this problem, but it merely is in our faces these days with all the debates, political campaigns, advertisements, and stances being taken on issues for the sake of the strength of a particular party. Honestly, this happens in business, sports, movies, culture, religion, philosophy, science, or any other field (all fields!) in which there are 2 or more theories or approaches to a subject. Whenever 2 or more of us humans are gathered, there is bound to be a difference, even if we agree on 90% of issues somehow we'll get around to the 10% we disagree on. And, of course, when we do we often defend or attack, rather than try to understand. We can easily talk past each other.

Perhaps this is because its easy to do, and it makes arguing for one side over the other easy! Yet, its not really what is at the heart of the argument. I cannot state how much I think we need to relax off of this way of discussion with others. It is not dialogue, but monologue (or a tirade!). During my coursework at Fuller Theological Seminary, this is one of the large emphases made throughout their instruction, that we need to be able to come humbly to a conversation in dialogue.

Dialogue requires listening.

Dialogue requires humility.

Dialogue challenges us to consider the other person isn't "just wrong."

Dialogue involves understanding the other person's approach to a subject.

Dialogue requires us to be with others.

Dialogue, as scary as it may seem, means we are willing to learn and adjust our stance as much as teach and hope to change the other persons.

Let me illustrate this last point from an experience I had in my World Religions class a couple of years ago. We, a group of Evangelical Christians from an established Seminary, under the guidance of our professor, Mareque Steele Ireland, arranged for us to attend a mosque here in Phoenix. It was an very interesting experience, and rather than having a hostile feeling, everyone we met were very kind towards one another. Once the service was over, the imam, a local man who was actually an engineer for a large technology company, had a question and answer session in which we stayed as well as several of the members of the mosque. They allowed us to ask many questions, as well as them, and honestly it was very informative. One thing the imam spoke, which struck me, however, was that he fully understood that we would try to convert people to Christianity just as he would try to convert us to Islam. However, and this is what I found very hopeful for the future, is that we can allow this to happen without having to feel like we are fighting. We can allow the merits of each faith to stand, in a sort of "free-market religious economy." I nodded my head in agreement, not in that I think that Islam is just as correct as Christianity, but because I know that you cannot force someone to believe something they don't want to. I had learned something from a Muslim about the way we can approach each other in common decency. In understanding the intrinsic worth in each human being, and that we are all equal in our journey of life. (Trust me, I'm not negating the fact that I believe there is truth out there, but in the humility of understanding no one has a corner on truth...we all "know in part.")

So, why is this such a big deal? I think we need to pause in our diatribes, tirades, and monologues (just like this one!) and listen to the other person. We need to realize that it isn't about winning a debate, having power for one party, but in solving the very real issues that face us as humans. Its dirty, filled with tension and dare I say it, compromise. Its a recognition that it is not about winning, but living. That together we are more than we are apart. That truth lies somewhere in the midst of us all, and is not the sole property of one or two people.

For me, this meant that my quest for the meaning of life shifted my question from "Am I right about this?" to "Am I ok with being wrong about this?"

What I mean is that this shift means it helps me delineate what is truly vital and at the core of truth, identity, and life, and what is speculative or secondary. I do not want to be known as someone who talks past someone, but someone who listens and is able to enter into another person's life with wisdom and understanding. Because I do believe we all know these talking heads are spouting extreme characterizations, and that the reality of things is always more muddled, filled with uncertainty and complexity, that they let on. This is where life is at.

I hope that in all places, on all topics, there are voices of reason, and that maybe, just maybe, mine is one of them.