Rage: The Ultimate Conversation Killer

There is little I find as satisfying as an hour or two of good conversation.  Of course both talking and listening must be present for conversation to take place.  One without the other may be necessary at times but certainly doesn’t qualify as conversation.  I’m lucky enough to have friends who value ideas, thoughts and relationship highly and whom I can always count on for a fascinating conversation.

The art of conversation- both talking and listening-  seems like a lost art on the larger cultural stage. We don’t have cable at home, but on the rare occasion when I watch one of the news networks I’m discouraged by the lack of actual conversation.  The way pundits and experts talk at each other borders on irresponsible.

Time Magazine, September 2009

There are surely many reasons for our poor conversational skills, but I heard a story on NPR’s All Things Considered on Saturday that suggested one possibility: rage.

I think that what’s happening is that each cycle, people are getting angrier, and so you’re seeing an overlap now of economic anger and this sense that our best days are behind us, which I guess you could call cultural rage.

We could enter a period where whoever’s in charge can’t solve our problems, and no matter what kind of policies are put forward, millions of people still feel that their basic economic needs aren’t getting met. And it’s in that sense of failure, it’s in that sense of expectations shattered that the risk of a very uncivil, brutal politics exists.

The story suggests that anger in and of itself has become an ideology.  Whether or not one’s rage is based in fact or actual experience is less important than the anger itself.  Yikes!  The entire story, including an interview with a Republican senator who has recently experienced this populist rage, is well worth the listen.

Two thoughts surfaced for me after listening to this story.  First, by our very nature Christians should be among the best conversationalists.  As those marked by humility and witness to Christ’s activity, we have intrinsic motivation to converse well.  Rage, or anything else for that matter, can never be an excuse or ideology that keeps us from listening to friend and enemy alike.  Second, while the cultures at large may find conversing across lines of ideology and politics impossible, the church doesn’t have this option.  Those who make up the church are identified as a new family only through our adoption in Jesus.  Divergent opinions and perspectives are still held, but none can be placed over our identity as God’s children, citizens of a new kingdom.  In other words, conversations among Christians ought to be incredibly interesting, compelling and gracious.

But is this actually the case? I’m curious about your experience.  Are Christians good conversationalists, willing to listen well to those with whom they may not agree?

6 thoughts on “Rage: The Ultimate Conversation Killer

  1. To me, the increasing anger that is rising on the part of conservatives is largely because they are being lied to. They see leaders intentionally deceiving. When they call out this deception and the “leaders” label them racists, etc. when racism has nothing to do with it, the anger goes up several notches.

    From my experience Christians are not good conversationalists perticularly when you are challenging a closely held belief with direct scripture. For many believers, the worst thing to tell them is that they are wrong about something. Rather than inquire about the assertion that they are wrong, they immediately jump to playing an arrogant card or a judgemental card or an angry card. They have now comepletely changed the subject from the issue you raise to some nuance of how you made your assertion.

    I think one of the main reasons believers are bad conversationalists about truth issues is because their main preference in church life is one-way communication from a hired expert. Two-way communication is far more challenging and involved. These two expectations are not comfortable, so they do not look favorably on it. It matters little that God specifically calls for one another oriented gatherings with two-way communication that is prepared. God’s people love the unaccountability of one-way communication. The preacher can speak to them with great passion, but because he has no mutual relationship with them for feedback or follow up on what was taught, they are now free to not live the truth taught, or twist their understanding of it and not be caught.
    The God we serve is a two-way communication God. He always speaks to us with full expectation that we respond and interact with Him. Systemically, the main elements of church life contraditct this, so saints are left unprepared to do what God has anointed them to do.

  2. I have a lot of political and faith discussions with friends with opposing viewpoints, meaning ‘Christian right’ and ‘non-Christian left’, and we do okay. I’ve learned some things and I hope they have, too. We rarely if ever move each other from deeply held positions, but adjustments do happen. I am personally suspicious of the level of political polarization (including racial and economic), and religious polarization (inside and outside the Christian faith), in the U.S. As far as I can tell we are all being manipulated for someone else’s benefit when we allow ourselves to become polarized to the point of hostility. And we definitely lose the option to learn something about each other, namely that we are all more alike than different.

  3. I think God created people in all shapes and sizes. We are all given different gifts from God and one of the gifts might be to be the ability to be a good conversationalist. As a youth and to some extent today I have struggled with a degree of envy towards people who could tell a lie with greater self confidence then I can express something that is true. I am not sure that this has any relationship to my level of faith but to some extent is wired into you at birth.
    I agree with Tim 100 percent on the anger resulting from being lied to. I have seen played out in local politics on several occasions where it has had nothing to do with being a republican or democrat. For the most part people will forgive honest mistakes but have a much harder time being lied to or treated as if they are ignorant.
    I don’t understand why it seems to be acceptable for politicians to lie. Its almost comparable to a boxer who can punch an opponent in the head once they step into the boxing ring something that would be totally unacceptable if they were not boxing. Once a politician puts on his political hat it is some how okay for them to lie. The end seems to justify the means. I think as Christians we are called out to stand up for the truth and thus should raise the bar on how politics is done.

  4. Byron said: “As far as I can tell we are all being manipulated for someone else’s benefit when we allow ourselves to become polarized to the point of hostility.”

    Good comments, Byron. I especially agree with your statement above. Ultimately, whoever the human players are–politicians or profit-driven media propagandists–the manipulators are the powers of darkness. “Our fight is not against flesh and blood. . . .” We seem so easily to forget this biblical truth. In directing our hostility against even lying politicians, it is misdirected. “Man’s anger doesn’t accomplish the righteous purposes of God.” Why do politicians believe they have to lie to achieve their goals? (That famous Jack Nicholson line comes to mine “You can’t HANDLE the truth!”) For one thing, when they make mistakes (and every human being does), the public and the media eats them alive (sometimes for weeks sometimes for years ever after). We’re all in this sinful human mess together. There can be no civility and no real conversation without a humble acknowledgement that the roots of the sin that expresses itself in the politician’s lie and in my uncivil and arrogant neighbor, lives and expresses itself in my life as well. Personally, I know that when I don’t listen to others, it comes down to the fact that I am too busy defending my own ego.

  5. I tend to classify my Christian friends as those I can talk to openly and honestly and those with whom I must avoid certain topics. The first camp is composed of a variety of backgrounds and opinions but everyone approaches our conversations with humility and a willingness to learn from one another. This leads to rich sharing and growth on all sides. The latter camp appears to be stuck in a “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality and I found I disliked my own response when discussing certain topics with them, which is why I now decline to discuss those issues. Perhaps my natural response to such “pigheaded certainty” is indignant anger but I had to accept that they were not willing to truly listen and I could not stomach being told I was not a Christian if I did not believe/vote/act a certain way. Given the foundations of our country, no one will ever have the right answer, nor can we say that we and we alone are the authority on God’s will. I don’t know why people fall into these various camps but I want to ensure that I stay firmly in the first.

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