Voices: In defense of listening

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You don’t have to have an opinion on every single issue. You don’t have to know what you think definitively about everything. I know it seems like you should have an opinion when you log on to social media or read op-ed after op-ed. But you don’t.

You can be slow to speak about something that you don’t know much about. Being slow to speak allows you to hear from others who are experts, who have experience or who have a different viewpoint than the pundits.

I am not talking about foundational theological issues here. We should defend orthodox Christian beliefs. However, there are many issues related to life in this world for which we don’t have a clear and decisive answer.

We have allowed secondary and contested issues to be conflated with primary and foundational issues. We have lost the ability to think clearly and well. Maybe more importantly, we have lost the ability to listen.

The cheapening of expertise has led to a plurality of voices and made it harder to listen to those who should speak.

Listening in the midst of polarized politics

In our divided and polarized culture, this plays out most in politics. We have decided we are all policy experts and have made debates about contested issues into matters of war, declaring those who differ from us to be enemies and heretics. We don’t listen to others but declare our opinions as the only right ones.

Today it seems there is no room for contemplation and weighing of different sides. There is no room for principle-based disagreement with the accepted ideology or orthodoxy.

In a culture where everyone must have an opinion about everything, there is not much actual depth anymore to the issues we discuss. Give us one good point we can use against our perceived enemies, and that is enough. We don’t need to hear another side or a different perspective.

Guard against the polarizers

Most of us are not experts in legal matters, economic systems, bills and policies being debated in the halls of government. I’m not; so, I read widely and listen to both sides. I don’t go online and give an opinion on something about which I am uninformed. I withhold judgment about those who disagree with my present position.

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When those who make money off of fear and anger convince us their opinion is the only right one and anyone who disagrees is an enemy who hates us, then we feel the need to be quick in declaring our allegiance to “the good guys.” We feel compelled to give an instant reaction. As a result, we don’t take time to listen to others.

When we are quick to declare an opinion, we continue silencing others who may have the experience we need to think through the issues of the day. We need to listen to other voices to help us see the world beyond our own skin.

Followers of Jesus must listen

The book of Proverbs teaches us over and over that wisdom is found in being quiet and listening. Sin multiplies when we open our mouths foolishly—or share our opinions on social media.

James 1:19 says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” What if we applied that verse to our online lives, too?

It is OK not to have a fully-formed opinion in the moment. It is OK to take time to research and test different sides in order to form an opinion according to your conscience.

As followers of Jesus, we have to get off of the carousel of outrage and polarization. We must be slow to speak and quick to listen.

Listen to those who have given their lives to understanding these issues. Listen to those who will be affected by these policies and decisions. Listen to those whose voices have been marginalized.

We don’t have to have an opinion right away, but we do have to listen to those made in the image of God. Maybe then we will be able to provide something more substantive than an opinion.

Zac Harrel is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gustine, Texas. The views expressed here are solely those of the author.

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