Is anybody listening?

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Has anyone noticed how we are talking “past” each other and not “to” each other? Certainly we see this on the TV talk shows where guests try to talk over each other with no one listening to the others. Some time ago, I was listening in as members of a small group were speaking with each other about a certain issue.

Each was voicing arguments for a certain point of view while the others in the group readily agreed. There was no dissension, no discussion, and no consideration of the contrary point of view. They were talking in a bubble — in an echo chamber. They all heard what they wanted to hear. And that’s our society today.

Most of us choose people to be in our circle of friends who think as we do. On social media, we tend to have as our contacts only those with whom we agree. I am a conservative in most regards. Nevertheless, I have some liberal friends on social media so that I can see what they are saying and thinking.

Most of my conservative friends have only conservative friends. Most of my liberal friends have only liberal friends. Thus, we who all hold the same opinions engage in a sort of “group think” which allows for no true discussion, no real debate, and no true exchange of ideas. Not only are we shouting out our own beliefs, we do so only with those who hold the same beliefs.

In a few days, the city of Newnan, Ga., is likely to have two groups in town, neither of which has any real business being here. One is the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi white supremacist, Anti-Jewish, ultra-right wing organization that intends to hold a public rally at a local park.

The other is Antifa, an ultra-left, self-styled anti-fascist group which has among its members socialists, communists, and anarchists. Antifa is coming to town to protest the neo-Nazis. Both groups have been known to employ violence. Neither group intends to have a debate or discussion. City officials and police are urging the citizenry to stay away from the park where the event is scheduled to be held.

While these groups represent the far extremes of the Left and the Right, their actions are common to many people between these poles. If we refuse to listen, if we choose to shout rather than to hear, if we only talk with those who agree with us and never consider any opposing viewpoints, then we are intellectually incestuous.

In our church, we do not vote. Our council makes all major decisions based on the principle of consensus. “Consensus decision-making is a group decision-making process in which group members develop, and agree to support a decision in the best interest of the whole. Consensus may be defined professionally as an acceptable resolution, one that can be supported, even if not the ‘favorite’ of each individual.”

Now, admittedly, this is not always easy. For one thing, people have to listen to each other, not simply “hunker down” and defend their own positions. Group members also have to be willing to lay aside their own agenda. And, at least in the church setting, there must be a commitment to pray and seek God’s will and not one’s own will. It can take longer to reach a decision but it’s worked for us for almost 22 years. Voting has “winners and losers.” Consensus, when it works, has no losers.

Some 10 years ago, I attended our denomination’s International Theological Conference in Florida. I quickly discerned that I was not the smart kid in the classroom. These theologians represented Catholic, evangelical, charismatic, and Reformed theologies. Yet, they all listened to each other and worked together to resolve issues. They still meet each year in peaceful, lively, and productive listening and discussion. Even there, they strive for consensus.

There’s not much consensus going on in our society. Certainly not in the halls of political power and, sadly, not much of anyplace else. It’s all about winning and that means the other side has to lose. Someone once said that we have one mouth and two ears which means we should listen twice as much as we talk. That would be good advice — if anyone was listening.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U.S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at bishopdavidepps@gmail.com.]