This is the third post of our “how to love one another” series. In the last post, we discussed the importance of communicating our needs and expectations. In this post, I want to explore with you the importance of listening to the views and perspectives of people outside of your typical circle of friends and family. You cannot love your neighbors unless you listen to (and try to understand) their perspective.
Living in an Echo Chamber
An echo chamber is “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered” (Oxford Dictionary).
Most of us naturally gravitate toward others who think, believe, and feel like us. We surround ourselves with people who value what we value and have a moral code similar to our own. And because we are surrounded by these people, who are very similar to us, these are the voices we hear most often.
Unfortunately, I lived much of my life in an echo chamber of Christians who were also white, middle class, American, and voted the way I voted. That doesn’t mean I didn’t know individuals who fell outside of that circle, but the vast majority of voices and perspectives I was exposing myself to fit those categories. I didn’t know much about how people outside of my own circle thought or felt on any given issue.
Consequently, my own views, perspectives, and biases were confirmed. When I expressed a thought, the people with whom I surrounded myself would echo back, “You’re right. That’s the way we think too.” And, sadly, differing viewpoints were often dismissed without much consideration because there was no one around to personally represent those viewpoints.
Love Requires Understanding
Consider these two unloving behaviors of which most of us are guilty, when it comes to this issue:
- Dismissing other people’s opinions without truly understanding them
- Misrepresenting the position of those with whom we disagree
None of us want others to do this to us. None of us feel respected or honored when someone dismisses our opinion without really considering it or misrepresents our position when arguing against it. And if we do not want others treating us this way, then we have to confess we are not being loving when we do this.
As followers of Jesus, we are supposed to…
- “honor everyone” (1 Peter 2:17)
- “show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2)
- “do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).
Even if we disagree with someone, we still must love them, respect them, honor them, and show them courtesy. Love forbids us from being rude (1 Corinthians 13:5) and it is incredibly rude to not try to understand the perspective and viewpoint of others. If we truly want to love our Christian brothers and sisters, our neighbors, and even our enemies as Jesus tells us to do, then we will strive to see the world through their eyes and not just our own.
Ask Questions and Listen
Of course, the major problem is that we usually don’t know it when we are behaving in this unloving way. Most of us have fooled ourselves into thinking we understand the perspective of those with whom we disagree. We don’t think we are misrepresenting people. We don’t think we are being dismissive. We falsely believe we are being fair and balanced in our arguments.
If we are going to avoid misrepresenting others and being dismissive of their views, then we are going to have to be intentional about inviting people into our lives who do not think like us, vote like us, or worship like us. We are going to have to widen our circle of friends and listen to their perspectives. This shouldn’t be done in an effort to gather “ammunition,” but in an effort to gain understanding and insight.
Widening our circle of friends will show us not only where we have misunderstood the views of others, but it might actually show us where we have been wrong and they have been right all along. Is it possible that you think the way you think, on a given issue, because you have never really considered the other side? Is it possible that if you considered the other side, you might change your mind on something? But even if you don’t change your mind, you still need to be able to understand why others see the issue differently in order to honor and respect them.
Not only do we need to surround ourselves with people who do not share our background and biases, we need to ask questions and listen to the answers. Perhaps, we could ask questions that begin with words like:
- Would you help me understand…
- How do you see this…
- Am I being fair when I say…
- I would love to hear your perspective on…
We need, of course, to be careful not to ask these questions with insincere motives or with the idea that all people in a certain demographic will be represented by the views of one individual. We need to ask these questions because we genuinely care about that particular individual and about all people. We need to ask because we have a lot of learning to do, because we are wrong about something, and because there is something we can learn from every person in the world.
Regardless of how vehemently I disagree with someone’s stance on an issue, I need to understand that he or she is more than an “issue.” The people with whom I disagree are my neighbors and I am going to assume all my neighbors hold the views they hold because those views seem reasonable and good; they do not hold those views because they are idiots or because they are moral monsters.
I am going to do my best to show my neighbors that I want to understand their perspective. I want my neighbors to know that even if I ultimately disagree with them about something, I respect them and understand where they are coming from. I want my neighbors to know I truly believe there are many things I do not know and many things I believe I can learn from them.
I love you and God loves you,