"For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them." Matthew 13:15 (NASV)
Several months back a young Vietnamese friend joined me on a Saturday evening stroll around Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake. A recent graduate from the Faculty of Law, he is always keen to practice his English and loves getting into serious discussions on politics, religion and social issues. His dream is to join the Communist Party in the future so that he can work within the system to make improvements for his people. Our discussions are always interesting and I am constantly amazed at his provocative questions and keen interest in just about any topic.
Sitting down on a bench to catch the cool breezes wafting off the lake, he suddenly became pensive. "I grew up with a strong bias against Christianity," he said quietly. "It does not have a good history in my country so I really hated it. But after spending time talking with you, I've changed my mind somewhat."
I was rather taken aback by his statement. I had never consciously tried to sell Christianity to him but had rather simply shared my thoughts and commitment. As I went home that evening I began to understand something very significant in what my friend had to say. No, it wasn't that I had been an especially good Christian witness. Rather it was that this young man, with his strong biases and understanding of history, was still willing to open his mind and listen, and because he was willing to listen carefully he began to recognize his biases and begin to change.
Listening to others is not always easy, especially if they hold religious or political views substantially different from our own. We tend to quickly turn to debate if we do not find their ideas fitting well with our own and consequently we argue rather than listen. Dialogue, which stresses deep listening, is difficult and I think few of us master this skill and many perhaps avoid it all together.
As I watch American political discussion on television, I have a strong feeling that many people are talking, but few are really listening. We throw out our ideas as fast and furious as we can without taking the time to meditate on the ideas of the other before responding. It seems to be a desire to win the debate rather than to understand and heal the differences. Synergy, a very important concept in any democratic society, is lost in the cacophony of argument and debate. In this kind of situation, there is little hope for healing within a splintered society.
My young friend has something important to teach us. Not everything we have been taught or that we hear on television "news" is true. Nor is everything we want to be true, always true. We need to think critically and, more importantly, listen deeply to the ideas of others. Maybe they have something important to share with us even though we may not like their religious or political stance. It takes courage to listen to the "other". We need to find that courage.