I sat with a group of people, discussing how our past experiences impact our faith and our relationships with others. It was a thoughtful and illuminating discussion. It was also peaceful and encouraging.
The group was predominantly Christian, but even so, we did not all share the same beliefs and backgrounds. One of the participants was Muslim. We were blue collar and white collar, gay and straight, men and women, younger and older, and white and brown and black.
We listened to each other, though. No one got angry, except possibly angry at a world that has shut down opinions. It’s so rare these days to get to speak our thoughts freely without censure, and especially with a group of people who listen to understand, rather than listening to reprimand.
I’ve always been someone who speaks my mind, sometimes to my detriment. I come from a family of strong opinions, and I never got the message that some people never forgive you for having ideas that don’t jive with their own. It was a shock to find you sometimes get penalized for speaking the truth as you saw it, even when you have been asked for your opinion. No, they wanted you to tell them what they thought!
I’m not argumentative. Well, not in a traditional way. I’m comfortable not everyone shares my thoughts, but not afraid to speak out myself. I know in this world of multiple-choice, my answer is often “None of the above” — even when not given as an option.
I have an issue with this multiple-choice world. Why do we have, at most, four acceptable opinions? Usually, there are only two, based on political parties, for goodness sake. Why do potential solutions to the world’s problems fall under these limits?
I’m not immune from sometimes being horrified at the opinions of others. My friends and acquaintances run the gamut of the most liberal liberals to the most conservative conservatives. I’ve never blocked anyone on social media for an opinion, even those whose views make me nauseous.
I also don’t engage in every discussion they throw out there. It’s not productive, and there are some for which dissenting comments will only entrench them further. I pick my battles.
I usually play for the small ”wins.” Sometimes it is finding something on which we can agree, and then expressing it in a slightly different way than they would have. Other times I find I can add a point to the discussion that they have not considered. Sometimes I share something from my own background that shows them why I hold my point of view.
During these times, I prepare myself for the ”pile on.” Their allies, who don’t know me, are usually the cruelest. Only seldom will my friend tell them to back off. Sometimes my friend will pile on, too. But that’s OK. I try to keep myself in check, so I’m immune to rabid comments.
I always try to bring things back to common ground. I can often find it. If not, I stop engaging. There are battles where a wise person recognizes the need to retreat. Sometimes I have to retreat from some of my closest friends because they refuse to respect any opinion except their own.
I’d rather know the opinions of others than have them remain concealed. How do you solve a problem you don’t know? While others are dismayed by the hatred of the times, I know it has often been there for generations, veiled. If it is out in the open, we have a better chance to teach something different. We have an opportunity to break the negative cycle.
I don’t care to live surrounded by only those people who agree with me. I learn much from those who don’t. Sometimes I am the wrong one. I have to change my mind. Yes, that stings, but I value truth. I’ll never stop looking for it. I’ve learned it in some of the most unusual places and from the most unexpected people.
Yet often I am surrounded by people who never seem to change their minds about anything. I blame the standardized test mentality.
A standardized test has always driven me crazy. I am good at these tests, by the way. I know you put down the answer the test maker believes is correct, whether you agree or not. The real question is not what I think, but what the person who created the test thinks, based on the choices given. I don't choose to do this in real life.
Have you noticed that no one usually discusses the results of standardized tests with you? Why not? It seems important.
How do I feel about my doctor missing the one question on an exam that pertains to my medical condition, and no one ever sets them straight?
Or my lawyer confused about something that may mean the difference in the outcome of my case?
I’m a licensed insurance agent — there were questions and answers that I believed were poorly written (or even wrong) as I did the testing for my license, yet I never got the opportunity to review them with anyone. I passed the test and went on my way. But what if I advise someone wrong as a result of something I misunderstood? What if in doing so, they are not appropriately insured?
We educate in a way that gives teachers or testers the power to determine the “right” answers. Someone with a response outside the box is not exceptional or innovative or possibly the holder of building blocks to solutions of problems. They are simply “wrong.”
We need to change this. How do we do this?
- We start with a party of one. Ourselves.
- We find people whose belief is, "Your voice is worthy, and I am listening.” We talk to them.
- We listen, really listen, to what these people, and others, have to say.
- We make ourselves open to changing our minds. Embrace the idea that we are wrong about many things and limited in our vision. That means we are human.
- We invite others to talk with us even if their opinions don’t mirror ours.
Maybe one day, we can get rid of standardized tests, pay high salaries to amazing teachers who nurture minds to think beyond the standard answers, and teach people to learn instead of to test well. I suspect we’d find quicker solutions to long time problems.
The people around you- their opinion may be different than yours. Instead of yelling at them in frustration and telling them they need to believe exactly as you do, change the paradigm. Talk. Listen. Learn. Change you. That’s where you’ll find your power.
Life's more than the one correct answer of four options that someone else chose for you. Let's put up the number two pencil and really listen to each other. We can come up with solutions together.
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