Having a Good Fight
I was reading Proverbs the other day and Proverbs 18:13 hit me. It was particularly poignant because I have been thinking about how I communicate to people. Whether it be talking to Taryn, friends at New College, people at church, or in my thesis. Proverbs 18:13 is an amazing piece of wisdom (go figure):
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
How easy is it to ignore this? All too often I read articles or blogs, and I think to myself, “Does this person really understand the people with whom he/she is debating?” All too often Taryn and I are in the midst of a conversation and she starts to say something, I cut her off, and answer the question I have decided she is asking. Then she actually asks the questions or finishes her statement and I realize I should have listened all the way through.
I am convinced giving an answer before we hear what someone is saying is part of the reason people tend to shout over each other or talk past each other. I am convinced it is part of the reason some people just attempt to avoid any controversial issue. We don’t know what other people are saying or refuse to hear the person with whom we disagree. We don’t know how to have a good fight.
This is part of what I love about reading Bavinck. There are these moments when I read him that I don’t realize he is arguing for a position with which he disagrees until I get to the very end. At the end of laying out one of his opponent’s positions, he then explains the elements of that person’s arguements that are wrong. He has listened to his theological sparring partner and though he may still disagree, he is doing so after listening carefully. He fight a good fight. He fights fair; rarely ignoring well reasoned positions or building straw men.
Too many of us don’t know how to have a good fight anymore. We don’t listen well. We can’t understand the argument from the other person’s perspective, so we refuse to listen and we give quick, easy answers to complicated issues. When we only listen to the people with whom we agree and surround ourselves solely with people who think like us, we tend to become more strident and radicalized in our positions. We no longer have the ability to even imagine how a person with a different worldview could get to their position and still be a rational thoughtful person.
There are a lot of ramifications that flow from this. One is that our ability to make friends decreases. When we can’t inhabit someone else’s world, we can’t truely connect with them. As a Christian, my concern is that when I am not able to even imagine the worldview of someone with whom I disagree, I become unable to speak the truth of Christ to them in a way that they would understand. I start to view the person as foreign and odd. I close myself off from the world around me and privatize my faith. I make it something good for me, but something that another person who doesn’t think like me could ever understand. Therefore, rather than share the good news and hope of the Gospel, I keep it to myself.
That one verse in Proverbs 18 has caused a lot of self-reflection for me. I have found myself trying hard to listen better. I don’t expect to agree with everyone on everything. I may have to have a fight with a person, but I want that fight to be a good fight. I want to listen before giving an answer. It is a skill that I need to develop, and I think one that is desparately needed in our world today.