I am going to explore for a while what civil discourse might mean in this time of such acrimony and division that exists in the United States at the moment. I hope that the discussion will help me engage in the world around me with less fear and more grace.
Geese all squawk at once. I turn to look at the sky sometimes because of the racket which is coming from a group of geese flying over. Maybe they can tell one voice from another, but I can’t. The same phenomenon occurs nightly on talk shows. Notice that they aren’t called “listen” shows or even “listen and talk shows.” Voices interrupt each other, talk over each other, ignore each other, and call it a discussion.
Yesterday a young man from church commented that God had given us two ears and one mouth. He suggested that the proportion of talking and listening was pretty clearly demonstrated on our own heads.
Listening takes time. Listening, pondering before a response and then responding takes even more time. I try to imagine a “talk” show with bits of silence between questions and answers. We act as if the quickest answer is the best, when we know full well that most questions demand thought. Reacting comes quickly; thought takes time. Emotions respond to reactions. Reactions intensify emotions. Soon we are indistinguishable from that flock of geese.
May we consider taking a breath before answering a question. May we consider letting the other person take a breath, too.