… of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
A new blog post. Same thing. :)
In my last post, I touched on a discussion my friend and I had. Given the different viewpoints she and I brought to the table, it was only natural that we disagreed on a majority of what we discussed. However, there were also times that I felt her responses indicated that she wasn’t really listening to me, and that got me thinking.
How do we as individuals determine whether the other person is actually listening to us?
For example, take the problem of evil argument. I’ve found that when discussing the concept of a Christian God, with the omnipotence, omniscience and all-loving characteristics, it tends to slam head on into the amount of suffering we see in this world.
Now, the common response I often see runs along the lines of simply because bad things happen in my life does not mean that there isn’t a God. The problem with this is that those who use the POE hardly ever, if at all, use their lives within that problem (from what I’ve seen). They take the lives of others. They take events like the Holocaust, or Rwanda. They may also take “smaller” events, such as the rape and murder of a five year old, and try and reconcile that into the idea of God. So to me, the response indicates that the responder didn’t listen to the question, because s/he isn’t addressing any of the points raised in the question, but rather the questioner him/herself. The responder has reduced, almost radically, the nature of the question, and made it look as though the questioner was complaining.
The other common response I see to the POE is the nature of free will, and man can choose good or evil. I may be on shakier ground here, but the reason why I feel this also doesn’t address the question involving the POE is because when evil happens to a person, that person’s free will is getting violated.
Please note: I’m not actually looking for a debate on the POE, or the nature of free will. That’s not the point of this post. The examples above are simply used to try and work through how we determine whether someone or not listens to us.
One of the ideas my friend and I were discussing is the idea of God “fixing” everything in the end, and the knowledge that it doesn’t matter if you screw up, everything will still be completed in the end. It’s along the line of the reason used for not being environmentally smart: since the second coming will occur eventually/soon, and the Earth will burn and God’s going to create a new one anyway, why bother preserving it?
I told my friend the problem I had with this entire notion is how God gets used as an “escape clause.” If you absolutely believe that God is going to completely restore creation in the end, and that it will be fixed eventually no matter what you do, will you put 100% effort into trying to fix the problem? Let’s put it this way: if I know that I’m going to get an ‘A’ on a math exam no matter how much I prepare, what are the odds that I’m going to study that much, if at all? Why would I put 100% effort into studying, if I knew that I’d pass no matter what?
Her response to this was that if one person fails to achieve something, it doesn’t mean that God is helpless. The outcome will still happen, if it is meant to.
I told her she wasn’t listening to me. And I repeated myself, as people who don’t feel like they’re listened to are prone to do. She then repeated herself and we were in a cycle for a few minutes. Then we moved to a new topic (and a new cycle. We went through quite a few cycles, actually).
So what was I basing this “lack of listening” on? I think I based it on the fact that she wasn’t repeating my ideas back to me, but going in an area that I wasn’t even focusing on. At the time, I felt that her response indicated that she missed the point, and I’m wondering if I thought she missed the point because she didn’t agree with me.
The point of my question wasn’t “How can something happen if people don’t commit 100%?” Because I feel that’s the question she was answering, as though I were discussing the outcome. I wasn’t – the outcome wasn’t my concern. My focus was on the amount of effort applied to any situation, and why you’d even bother if you knew someone else, should that someone else will it, will see it occur anyway. You can tell yourself that you will commit 100%, but going back to the math problem, how feasible is it that subconsciously you won’t? (This may have gone better if I used the math example with her – I just came up with that example in relation to this post). I was focusing on the negative aspects of certainty. I mean, she even brought up the point that life here is horrible, but that’s what heaven is for – a place where no horrible things are. But that’s too close to the idea of simply enduring this life for a reward in the next, and with that mindset, why bother trying to make this life better at all? That was what I was trying to get across: the potential dangers that lurk in the viewpoint.
Please note #2: No comments about how if a person does this, they aren’t really Christian/Muslim/human in the first place, because one of the mandates is to help the neighbor. This isn’t meant to be a discussion in that area, and overall, this example is also used to explore the concept of listening.
But I want to go back to the agreement aspect – is that what we ultimately base listening on? There are quite a few bloggers who I feel “listen” a majority of the time, because when I post something, or comment in theirs, they respond in a way that indicates they understand what I’m saying. Much of this understanding circulates around agreement. It may not be 100%, but they’re agreeing with a majority of what I say.
And there are times when I feel, and I’m sure we all have, that someone has completely missed the point. We read the answer, and wonder if they even read our points in the first place. Coincidentally, these are the same people that don’t agree with a majority of what we say. So is there a correlation between those we feel listen, and those who agree with us? Had my friend and I theologically agreed, would I have felt that she had in fact listened to what I said?
I’m not saying that those who disagree are incapable of listening to opposing viewpoints. I just think it’s a lot harder to listen, because we tend to respond to “trigger” words with opposing viewpoints. Take universal reconciliation. A common response to universal reconciliation is that God is just: wrongs must be punished. Or why would someone who’s unrepentant want to be in heaven in the first place?
However, universal reconciliation is not the same thing as saying it’s okay to do whatever you want. It’s also not the same thing as saying God is unjust. But if I had someone respond to my universalistic tendencies in that God must be just as well, I would say that the person isn’t listening to me, because I never said God was unjust. I also never said that the person would always remain unrepentant.
Or take the reconciliation attempts between the idea of God being love, and the existence of an eternal hell. Aside from the whole “God is just as well” response, I also see responses in equating love with a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” Or a coddling type of love, that always lets you do what you want. With either of those responses, I would again feel as though the responder didn’t listen to me. First, because love isn’t separated from justice, and I never said it was. Second, because I never said that love coddled or was a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” However, the second clash would be a result of the different definitions of love: to me, love means that you don’t let the person do whatever s/he wants. If you do, you’re actually apathetic towards the person. If you let someone go rob a store, and say, “That’s okay, I’ll still love you,” then you aren’t loving that person at all. Love accepts you as you are, and then helps you be better. It challenges you. And it does correct wrong behavior, so that you stop doing that behavior, and stop finding joy in that behavior.
As stated, I would claim in both cases that the responder didn’t listen to me, based on their responses. I would feel that s/he was commenting on something I didn’t actually say. This would no doubt derive from the different concepts of the trigger words, such as “love,” “justice,” or “universal reconciliation.” In the responder’s case, s/he would say that s/he did listen. I think much of why I’d feel the way I would is because of the lack of agreement – but that lack of agreement stems in a large part from the definition of the words themselves.
So what criteria do we use to judge whether or not someone listened to us?