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.
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?