One of my new year’s resolutions for 2014 was to listen better. My intent there was that I needed to stop treating the world, and my friends, as if they were all waiting expectantly for the arrival of my personal wisdom and judgment, on whatever matters they might be deliberating.
I am a counselor and a mentor at heart — it’s just part of my wiring. But I’ve had some success with this aspect of my nature. My peers and ment-ees have thanked me for my input many times, even when I have comically offered it without a direct invitation. But, such “success” goes to one’s head, and certainly it had by now, to my own.
So last January, aiming toward life well-lived, and pursuing true humility, I resolved to listen. I wanted to make room for the fact that I am literally surrounded by bright people, whose ability to navigate life on their own terms easily matches my own, or exceeds it. This fact, I thought, should make me more attentive to the perspectives, hopes, and hangups of other people, even if they are not my first instincts.
Thus began the Year of Listening. It would be full of lessons that were not slow in coming.
In January, I made a high-stakes venture that paid out harsh consequences. I had two dear friends who I felt were taking a risky and unorthodox move by getting married. I loved them both very much. So I felt I was acting out of such love, and in their best interest, when I spoke up that they should rethink their imminent engagement. This did not go well at all.
While my missive was driven by a sincere heart, its delivery was overwrought and ham-fisted. My choice of the written medium was a bad one. And the timing could not have been worse. As a result, I lost these two friends. In just an instant.
This whole message should not have been a message at all — it should have been a conversation, and a deep Listening time, for me and perhaps for all of us. But I was caught up in my self-assured sense of duty as the Wise Friend Who Speaks Up, and this resulted in a blind spot that was to all of our detriment.
I was excommunicated after that. In the weeks that followed, in the cognitive dissonance that results from the loss of friends who are like family … I wondered at what had happened here.
I felt that I had been speaking up for good old solid orthodox Christian wisdom — that would be “orthodox” with a lowercase ‘o’. When I spoke about all this fallout with friends who I felt shared such main-line beliefs, they were affirming that I had made the right call by speaking up. Because, the reasoning went, friends should speak up when they see friends walking into potential ruin and regret! That gave me some peace. So I offered whatever apologies I could muster to my lost friends, and tried to wait out the painful silence.
On the other hand, I was plagued by the guilt, or perhaps the regret, of knowing that such a line of reasoning had led me into a deeply self-righteous posture when I sent my message. As I said, I should have been prepared to listen, not just because of my 2014 Resolution, but because the deep gravity of the occasion clearly demanded it. But I did not really seek to listen. I had made my judgment, and was merely delivering it.
I couldn’t help but wonder: even if my intentions had been benevolent, how had I settled on an execution that was so destructive? I allowed this question to resound in my soul for a little while, hoping perhaps the Spirit would use it to search my depths.
It was around this time that the World Vision gay rights debacle went down. As I watched the story unfold, I couldn’t help but see it as a massive-scale replay of my same personal fumble: benign intentions, based on accepted mainstream understandings of Christian doctrine, implemented in a way that was unexpectedly cruel, unwieldy, and deeply destructive.
Yikes. A pattern was beginning to show itself here.
The story continues next time …