This weekend our country weathered another devastating blow. A gunman killed many dozens of people in Orlando, FL. My kids and I first heard about it when only hours later we were praying about it in church, asking for God’s mercy and comfort for every person touched by this horrific attack. Ours is a country in deep pain. We have all seen the headlines and heard the soundbites to attest. So much is broken, so much pain upon pain upon pain.
Before this latest shooting grabbed the headlines it was scathing reports on a shocking rape, vicious attacks and counterattacks as part of a ruthless and disheartening political campaign year, cruel judgment piled on strangers in the wake of a tragic incident at the Cincinnati Zoo. It seems there are no bounds to the stories that will pop up and stir our ire. Ours is a country full of rhetoric, anger, and fear.
I see it on my social media feed. In the wake of whatever tragedy hits that day I see people speaking with frustration, anger, and force. I see them echo my own sentiments of helplessness mingled with disbelief and resolve to make things different going forward. We want things to be different, all of us. Even those we call our enemies.
And it saddens me to see that we call so many our enemies. My liberal friends demonize the right. My conservative friends express disgust for the rhetoric and the policies of the left. Everyone is angry and yelling about each other, but not speaking with each other. In our anger and despair we scream out solutions on Facebook and Twitter, lacing our rants with sarcasm and disdain as though those who disagree with us actually enjoy mass shootings, violent assaults, and the tragic deaths of endangered animals. We are yelling and yelling and yelling but we don't see that beyond these screens, our vitriol is directed at our neighbor and theirs at us.
That is not the kind of country I want to live in.
For all the times I’ve seen someone lament on social media about What kind of society do we want to be? even as they spew grenades at the gun lobbyists or the abortion activists or privileged white men in suits, I think I want to be part of a society of people willing to listen to one another. And that starts with me.
I must be willing to listen. Because as much as I believe what I believe with all my heart and soul and strength and being, I know that my enemy holds beliefs dearly too. So maybe we’re not so different. Nobody thinks of themselves as the enemy. We all think of ourselves as being in the right. I ought to remember that my enemy thinks so too.
I am not saying I don’t want to stand for what I believe in; I am not saying it’s not right to speak out. All I’m saying is we could improve our listening. It doesn’t have to be one or the other; it doesn’t have to be listen or stand up for what matters to you. It doesn't have to be gun control or better mental health. It doesn’t have to be end abortion or help pregnant women in distress. We can do both. We can consider both. We can talk and listen about both.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.
I open up my social media feeds and there’s not a lot of listening apparent among us. We all have something to say, but how many of us are thoughtfully considering our enemy’s point of view? They clearly have one—might we not benefit from trying to understand it better? We are quick to speak, quick to anger, and the world keeps moving as it is.
What might happen if our kids were to listen a little better than we have modeled for them? What might the world look like if we quieted our tongues and opened our ears? That’s the kind of society I want us to be. That’s what I want my kids to experience. A society where what each of us has to say will be heard and considered, where the tragic, senseless death of fifty plus civilians on a summer night out on the town will not only rock our souls but will take the breath from our lungs so the screaming stops for a moment, and we can hear the collective question: What have we together created, where do we go from here, and what can I do to help?