Taking care with conversation

Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2009

We live in an age of advanced communication, yet often experience the lack of meaningful conversation. Churches, political parties, individuals, friends, family, even nations can become so caught up in personal opinion and agenda that their listening skills get lost. Human well-being can be sacrificed for the almighty need to be right. Job 32:10 declares, "Therefore I say, 'Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion.'" But proverbs 18:2 puts that in perspective when it defines a fool as "one who takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion."

Too much focus is placed on the loudest, most strident, radical and bizarre voices screaming their opinions. Galatians 6:10 challenges us to seize every "opportunity to work for the good of all." That important point is easily lost in our desire to set the agenda and assure the outcome we want. As we recognize the importance of true dialogue, the need to dominate conversation is replaced with meaningful conversation.

Luke 22:26 reminds us that "the greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves." If each persons voice was valued, the harmful boundaries of one-sidedness could be bridged, and meaningful breakthroughs in conversation on issues, thought to have no solutions, could be found. Closed minded-ness on hot button issues such as religion, politics, health care, war and relationships can give way to common ground for the overall good of humankind.

The challenge we face is to open doors by asking, searching and knocking at the door of reality. We open doors when we practice good listening and move beyond the dead end, close-mindedness, so frequently displayed in society.

If the leader is to become one who serves the black eye of seeking to dominate, by manipulation and coercion, can give way to listening to all voices, rather than just like-minded voices.

Secrecy is an appealing and frequently used method for exclusion. It hurts people and organizations seeking to serve and care for others. Exclusion is frequently at the heart of misguided decisions that harm people. Reliance on e-mail, and other gadgets, to make decisions without hearing or including all decision-making voices happens far too often.

People have always used unhealthy methods to delete voices needed in responsible decision-making. In this computer age, one click on your "mouse" can make deletion instantaneous. Technology makes exclusion easier.

We pay money for programs enabling us to delete junk mail and viruses. But deletion can be misused. We can delete people and ideas needed in decision-making, and surround ourselves with like-minded people. By appealing to one side we can ignore the other. Too often we hit "delete" in our relationship with others. In the process we delete people, faith, principals, morality and responsibility. We deprive others and ourselves from the blessings of meaningful communication. The computer is a vehicle for deletion or inclusion. Be careful how you use it.

When communicating via e-mail, an immediate response is expected often at the expense of a well-thought-out response.

At a face-to-face meeting, people typically share input and discussion with the passion and divergent views of those present. When e-mail replaces face-to-face decision-making, a minority may respond with homogeneous thinking, causing non-responders to be silent, because they feel their opinion does not matter. Honesty and integrity are too often sacrificed for expediency and instance gratification. The misconception exists that e-mail is instant response. In reality there can be time lapses for many reasons, both people related and technical delays.

There are some other qualifiers to our technological realities that lead to exclusion. There are those who don't have access to such expensive technology. Others have good communication skills, but choose not to participate in such technology. Frequently the technologically inclined crowd may intentionally or unintentionally exclude people from the decision-making process. If people spend less time face to face and "neglect to meet together" the gift of human interaction suffers and important voices are left out.

In our computerized world we are bombarded with gadgets that can assist or destroy meaningful conversation.

Listen to these words from Hebrews 10:24-25: "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another ... "

The many advanced communication tools widely used in society provide new avenues for communication but if not used wisely can be very harmful.

• Pastor Larry Rorem, is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church of America pastor.

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