I don’t know if you noticed, but it seems like everyone has a strong opinion on just about everything right now, and many are quick to voice their opinions.
Let’s acknowledge that our nation has faced a lot these past few months. There are strong opinions about how to handle the coronavirus, whether to mask or unmask, and how to reopen our communities, businesses, schools and churches. Additionally, the tension in our nation around racial injustice and inequality has erupted with a lot of strong and differing responses.
Add to this the reality of our political system, set up to divide us into two opposing sides: whom to vote for, how we should vote, the question of voter fraud, and the list of potential fractures goes on and on. I get it. I have strong opinions about a lot of things, too. But having strong opinions about things that matter can easily slide into having strong opinions about things that don’t matter. When our primary focus is only on expressing our opinions, our differences can begin to divide us.
How can people of faith respond when opinions collide and start to divide?
We can start by practicing a simple directive written by James, who was the brother of Jesus. In the first verse of the first chapter of the Epistle of James, he writes that “this letter is from James — a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). He makes no mention that he is the brother of Jesus or grew up with him or has special access to him. James acknowledged that Jesus, his brother, was simply his Lord.
James writes this letter to those who would also consider Jesus to be their Lord. The same words that spoke to the first-century followers of Jesus still speak to us today. He writes, “Understand this my dear brothers and sisters: you must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19). In other words, listening before speaking will help us make better decisions.
The quote, “We have two ears and one mouth so we listen twice as much as we speak,” is often attributed to the Greek philosopher Epictetus. My observation is that this is easy to follow in concept but much more difficult in practice.
Imagine for a moment if you followed this verse in reverse. Do you think you would make good decisions if you were quick to get angry, quick to speak and then slow to listen? I’ve never met anyone who wished they had a worse temper and more anger, or who regretted that they listened first. But I do know plenty of people, myself included, who have spoken out of anger and regretted words that had been uttered.
Listening is an action word. It means to pay attention or to give your attention until you understand. We have listened well when we’ve understood. If we haven’t understood, we should keep listening.
We live in a world of opinions colliding and dividing. How can people of faith be an example in how to discuss differences of opinions? Let’s get practical. Author Ian Morgan Cron gives us the acronym SNAP, which means stop, notice, ask and pivot.
When you feel like you’re going to snap, the first step is to stop. This may take a great level of self-control, but many times the first step is the hardest. Stop and notice. Grow in situational awareness. There may be something to see that you haven’t seen before. And if you don’t understand, ask questions. Listen for those words that you don’t understand and ask. Finally, you may need to pivot. “Pivot” is a great word that is needed right now. In basketball, to pivot is to have one foot planted firmly and the other foot available to move quickly to adjust to the situation. Maybe there is an area in your life in which you need to pivot based on new understanding.
Imagine how being quick to listen and slow to speak would impact your relationships, especially with those who are different from you. Imagine the impact on our community and our nation if we all took one step in listening first before speaking. We could make a difference in this world — one listening ear at a time.
Matt Mylin is the lead pastor at Worship Center, a Lancaster church. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.