When I was a freshman in college, I became good friends with a young woman who was a Christian Scientist. We would spend hours talking to each other about anything and everything, including religion. She once told me that she had never felt so free to discuss her religious beliefs with anyone before, and I felt exactly the same way. Which may seem a bit odd, because I’m not a Christian Scientist.
I think what made our discussions, and even our friendship, work was the way we talked to each other. We expressed our own feelings and beliefs, honestly and openly, and then really listened to what the other person had to say. She didn’t try to change my mind and I didn’t try to change hers. But I learned a lot from those long talks with my friend, because they forced me to think about just why I agreed with her on some points and disagreed on others. In other words, she challenged me to really examine just exactly what I believed, and why.
My friend transferred to another college after her freshman year, and we gradually lost touch with each other. But the lesson I learned from her has stuck with me. I think of it every time I watch a political debate, read about a religious war, or even just scroll through the news feed on my Facebook page and see all the petty sniping and bickering. Because here’s the thing: if you really want someone to listen to your point of view, you need to talk to them. Not lecture them, or ridicule them, or attack them….just talk to them. The way you would want someone to talk to you.
Somewhere along the way, it seems that many of us have forgotten how to do that. We seem to think it’s our duty to point out other people’s faults, usually in a way that degrades them and allows us to feel superior. While we can do that if we want, it’s not at all an effective way to get our point across. And as a method for changing someone’s heart and mind, it’s a complete failure.
I know I’m lucky, because I still have a few friends I can talk to, openly and honestly, about anything at all…..even those “hot button” subjects like religion or politics. We manage it the same way my old college friend and I did, by speaking from our hearts and listening respectfully to what the other person has to say. We always say “I disagree” rather than “you’re wrong.”
Sometimes I change my mind after one of our discussions, and sometimes I don’t, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they give me some insight into a different perspective, and they leave me feeling that my voice has also been heard. And that always reminds that good things can happen when people simply talk to each other.