“I challenge you to a debate!”
Sounds like someone has just pulled their verbal gun out of its holster, their finger is on the trigger, and they are ready to blow you away. Interested? This usually results in an armament check. We go and analyze our word inventory, our stockpile of arguments, and we analyze our morale and courage.
To ourselves we say, “Looks like he’s got a .22 caliber single shot tongue, and several containers of verbal grenades. I’ve got a flame-throwing personality and a semi-automatic mouth.”
“Yeah, come on let’s fight...I mean debate.”
In the English language we even use the metaphor of ‘putting holes’ in another person’s viewpoint. Truth is not served when the focus is how clever with words we can be, how self confident and poised we can be, how winsome we can be, or how intimidating we can be.
Do you know how much learning happens when debates are turned into verbal assaults? None. In fact, this kind of interchange hardens the heart and immobilizes the mind. Not all debates need to be this way. I have been involved in debates where the end result was appreciation, education, and growth.
The key difference? The ear.
Imagine having a debate with a person who is wearing large sound-proofing covers over their ears. Perhaps you’ve seen the kind worn at firing ranges or in industry where there is a lot of noise. What if at a debate, someone showed up wearing those? This is the setting for verbal warfare. This is often exactly what happens.
What’s missing? The ear. Listening.
Have you ever had the experience of trying to get two people to listen to one another? I mean really listen to one another? Perhaps there is a husband and wife who are deep into an argument. They have been unable to resolve their conflict and they are beginning to show the signs of strain in their relationship. Perhaps you are a friend or a family member or a counselor who is trying to help them resolve their conflict. You will never get anywhere in resolving their conflict until you get them to listen. I mean really listen.
I will sometimes ask people in this scenario to repeat what the other person’s viewpoint is. It can be fascinating to see how hard this is. Let’s say the husband is asked to repeat the wife’s view point. He may say something like, “She is so stupid, she thinks moving to Delhi will solve all our problems. They will only increase our problems, especially if we live near to her mother!”
I might respond, “Now I’m sure that is not your wife’s viewpoint. I think you just stated your viewpoint. I am asking for you simply to repeat your wife’s viewpoint. Can you do that?”
There will probably be a little grumbling at this point. He will usually try again.
“Well, she thinks moving to Delhi will solve all our problems!”
Now I know two things wrong with this statement. First of all, I know that she doesn’t think moving to Delhi will solve all their problems. As well, the tone of his voice needs to be addressed, because he probably said it with a mocking or sneering tone of voice. And this certainly does not represent her point of view.
So I will ask him, “Let me see if you can simply state her point of view in such a way that she can agree that you have accurately said it.”
He may try several more times, and I will ask her, “Is this your view?”
She will usually say, “Not quite,” and explain.
Now be ready for a long session as you work on this. But if he is willing and somewhat sincere, eventually after some time he will be able to say a reasonable facsimile of what her viewpoint is with a warm tone of voice in such a way that she believes he has stated her true viewpoint.
A very interesting thing will start to happen at this point. Your work as a friend or a counselor will often be over. You may simply find yourself watching. This is because you have done the most important work of all for these circumstances—you have gotten them to listen to one another. The ear… Until this point they were simply mouths. Now they are much more human and have both a mouth and an ear.
Dialogue. Another much abused word. A great word. But what many people mean by this is, “Everybody should end up with the same opinion. Mine” It is a word preferred by those who are most eclectic or syncretistic in their viewpoint. These are people who have a view of truth that can overlap and even include somewhat contradictory views. It can sound like a very broadminded and accepting word, but be careful! It can also be a way of simply saying, “Everyone should believe the way I do.”
For example, if you have some people discussing their viewpoints. The first person believes “A” is true, “B” and “C” are therefore false. Another person may actually believe that none of these options are true, indeed there is no such thing as truth. A third person may believe “A” can be true at the same time as “B” and “C” being true.
“Dialogue” can mean a very different thing for each of these people. Now we have a strong potential for earless human beings. If the camp that believes “A,” “B,” and “C” can and should all be equally valid viewpoints and they are suggesting a dialogue, they may actually be asking for a monologue.
Dialogue is the combination of two words, dia and logos or two ideas: 1) two 2) words. This word implies there are two sides or views to be voiced or heard. Often, the worldview that doesn’t believe there can be any difference in viewpoint, the worldview that simply consumes other viewpoints into its own paradigm-- is using the word ‘dialogue’ as a way to promote their monistic worldview. Dialogue then becomes a showpiece word, but the meaning has been cut from its moorings. It actually becomes a patronizing invitation for someone to come and learn why, “Your viewpoint is actually my viewpoint.” Dialogue changes to monologue. Men without ears.
Bombastic word wars or diplomatic thuggery…both fall short. It is time for men with ears to listen.
Will this solve all the world’s problems? No. In fact one of the reasons many people don’t want to listen is that if they really do, they will find people who believe quite differently. In some cases we will find a genuine appreciation for other viewpoints that we did not understand. It is also quite possible that we will find people who believe quite the opposite from us, and it may be very upsetting.
But listening is the first step.
What is also needed is, well, quite simply put…love.
By Wyatt Robertson