When I was in high school, I was on the debate team. We’d meet before school, tucked away in a musty old history classroom, preparing our opening statements, rebuttals, and concluding remarks long before the crack of dawn. The sun would barely be peeking across the horizon as we divided into groups, wielding notebook paper with scribbles of quotes to test out our lines of reasoning. I never minded the early morning hours. Learning to craft the perfect argument – and more importantly, winning the argument — was its own reward.
For a while, I thought everyone loved to debate as much as I did, and I treated every conversation as an opportunity for intellectual rigor. Surely, I thought, everyone loves to hash out ideas around dinner tables and at Bible studies and parties, right? Let’s just put all the ideas on the table, discuss and dissect them, and then determine whose logic wins out. Boy, was I wrong. Conversational approaches in the debate room don’t translate well into everyday life conversations.
No surprise, people didn’t take kindly to me bringing down a heavy hand of critique to their ideas. Whenever I was quick to jump into a conversation to refute someone’s comments or story, the conversation usually came to a quick halt. People didn’t want to be talked down to, or constantly corrected. They wanted to be heard, understood, and for their ideas to have space to just breathe and exist. I know that probably sounds like an obvious truth, and it is, but it’s easier said than done.
I once heard someone say, “People don’t converse. They simply reload.” I think that is an apt analysis of how we often approach conversations today. We’re not even really listening to the other person. We’re just waiting for them to stop talking so that we can keep carrying on with whatever idea we want to express. No wonder we have such a hard time connecting with people today, especially with those who are different from ourselves.
In my day-to-day interactions with people, I’ve learned to connect before I correct. While there is a time and place for debate, it should not be the norm. Dissecting people’s ideas, telling people they are wrong, and platforming our own ideas over others are all quick ways to lose friends, hurt people’s feelings, and grow relational divides. Instead of debating with people I disagree with, I’ve learned to first lean in and become a better listener.
The Bible has a lot to say about listening well. James 1:19 says, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Having a posture of listening isn’t easy. Nor is it easy to keep my mouth shut. My mind is always running and my ideas are always processing, and yet, that doesn’t mean I need to say everything I’m thinking all the time. I’m not called to center myself. I’m not called to bulldoze people with my “higher than thou” thoughts. I’m not even called to raise my voice.
Instead, the way of Christ and His followers is to see conversations as opportunities for relational connection. We are to show people we might vehemently disagree with that we first and foremost care for them and want to bond with them in some way.
Imagine what the body of Christ would look like today, what churches would look like today, if we didn’t constantly see people’s words and behavior as battlegrounds to be won. Imagine what our communities, and even our country, might look like today if we sought to better understand people across political, cultural, economic, religious, and class divides and seek to build connections based on mutual respect.
What if, instead of coming out of the gate with a defensive stance and our best argument to utterly crush another person, we said something like, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve never thought about it that way. Tell me more.” What if, instead of getting angry and thinking the worst of someone, we sought clarity by asking, “Hey, I’m not totally understanding what you’re saying. Can you elaborate?” or “Earlier you mentioned something, and I wasn’t quite sure what you meant. Could you help me better understand where you’re coming from?”
Nowadays, when I ask questions like this, instead of powering forward with a defense, I find that I’m able to connect with people on deeper levels and, ultimately, show the love of Christ to others. In choosing to connect instead of correct, I find that God opens doors for new perspectives and unexpected friendships. I won’t always agree with the people in my life, be that my family, friends, or neighbors, but I know that I can lean in with love and a desire to learn and understand, and that will have a far greater impact than choosing to debate.
The (in)courage podcast is taking a brief hiatus from new episodes this week as we do some maintenance and updating behind the scenes! We’ll return to new daily episodes next week, starting March 13th. In the meantime, we hope you’ll enjoy five episodes from our podcast archives!
Today’s replay is from July 2022. It’s an excerpt from the summer issue of the Everyday Faith Magazine, written by Ellen Wildman and titled You Are Important. Listen below or wherever you stream podcasts.Leave a Comment