During a text conversation someone sent, “I am learning that I do not have to like someone to learn from them.” So good. So difficult to apply.
Through the jungle of comparisons, amidst a sea of expectations and judgements, we tend to equate respect with potential learning. If I don’t like you, often tied to not respecting you, you have nothing to offer me. If someone makes, what we have deemed, a poor life choice, we place them in a box labeled “you have nothing to teach me.” And I get it. Seems logical. I don’t point my kids toward mentors and guides that don’t reflect what I hope they will strive to mirror. But I also hope I try to teach the boys how to see value, aside from choices, in each human being.
We don’t often have the patience to practice the mental gymnastics required to parcel out lessons from someone we struggle to respect or like. We tend to prefer a quick sort, predetermining which categories deserve our attention. And there can even be wisdom in that, right? Investing energy and time in someone requires not giving energy and time to someone else. Every yes requires a no to something in some way. I’m not suggesting we invite foolishness to take up residence, shaping our character or guiding our steps. But I do think checking our dismissiveness might be good.
When the author of James says, “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” I get this sense of fighting to remain open, rather than drawing predetermined lines and building walls through rushing to make our points. In a slightly bigger context, the verse is, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” There is something to be gained from remembering this practice. Learning where to place our quick and slow leads us to a different type of living. There is a reason James shares this advice.
One, our natural state most likely defaults to the reverse. Most of us don’t struggle to be slow to listen and quick to speak.
Second, almost every skill I’ve ever attempted to acquire required practice. In order to become a quick listener, I will have to practice.
I typed faster after high school keyboarding class. Slowly returning to home row, speeding up over time. The tiny sad list of instruments I play required so many slow and repetitive exercises, which is partly why my proficiency is 😬 well, kinda sad. I didn’t practice. (Sorry mom.) As a result, I am not “quick to play.” When the boys were little they piano lessons. After several years I was exhausted by being the task/practice master. I gave them the choice and it took them all of two seconds to opt out. But I also told them this, “I have never met an adult that used to take lessons, quit, and didn’t at some point say something like, ‘I wish I hadn’t quit.’” I told them I would set a reminder on my calendar to ask them the year they turn 30 if they were glad they never really learned an instrument. I’ll report back in 13 years. 😳
If I promised you that, while practicing listening to the point of being a quick listener, may not be easy and you will stumble along the way, but that you would never regret developing that skill, would you believe me? Could I set a reminder on my calendar to check back with you?
Being heard and becoming angry will have a place. We need to use our voices. There will be things that are wrong, injustices, things should bother us, and move us toward some level of passion, but approach those things with temperance, a slowness that gives space for observation, clarity and awareness.
Maybe this slowness isn’t how we envision the word slow, not so much a laziness or a slowness that means we are not able to understand, but more a slowness with the level of curiosity and uncertainty that accompanies humility.
When I think of people that reverse the pacing suggested in James, when I consider someone that is slow to listen, quick to speak and/or quick to anger, I am not eager to learn from them. But then again, there I go, being quicker to dismiss them than to listen. I need more practice.