Since I am writing about listening I’ll start with what I heard in the comments so far. (1) The respondents think this is worth giving it some effort. Of course, you wouldn’t expect any naysayers to overtly say “nay.” (2) Several expressed concern about the term “middle.” Maybe we should just say the non-radical fringes. Roaring middle has a nicer irony and ring to it than roaring non-radical fringe. Let’s keep noodling on that one. (3) Some expressed concern that I am being overly optimistic thinking that 99% do want healthy conversations. I just grabbed 99% out of the air with no data to back up the number, but I am going to hold on to it for awhile and attempt to explore the thought more. To those who commented, thanks for the challenge. Let’s land someplace together with that. And (4) What if the chasm of opinion is just too far to bridge? That is a great question and, again, one we need to explore further.
Discovery or intelligence gathering? A number or years ago I was interviewing someone for a leadership position. We arranged the interview process so that we had a day-long road trip together, allowing for plenty of time for casual conversation. About half way through the drive I realized my candidate was not asking me discovery questions; that is questions that explored the roots of the culture and history of the group to be led. As I explained stories and history I began to get a distinct impression that this content was being put to the side as irrelevant. That’s not quite right though, it was relevant in terms of evaluating how to change the landscape rather than appreciate and enhance it. I finally made the observation that I didn’t think we were having a conversation of discovery but rather that my candidate had already determined a course of action and was gathering the intelligence needed to carry out the campaign.
There were so many other positive skill matches that I overlooked the reservations that conversation created and made the hire anyway. It didn’t work well for the new hire, for me or for the group being led. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I learned some very valuable life lessons from that episode.
Let’s apply that concept to what is going on in American culture and politics today. If your Facebook feed is full of satirical comments about President Biden’s address to the nation this week it’s because Facebook has decided that is what you want to see and hear, and they are feeding it to you. Conversely if your Facebook feed is full of glowing comments about this historic first piece of legislation from President Biden’s leadership the same thing is true. The challenge is to attempt to get past your initial position and try to find out why the “other” has responded so differently than you. Facebook isn’t going to help you much with that. It is a fact that a bill for 1.9 trillion dollars called the “Covid 19 Relief Bill” was passed this week. It is a fact that many Americans think this is a huge and positive step. It is a fact that many Americans do not. But why do they think what they think, why is this either good or bad? What is the basis of their evaluation? What values are either served or not served with this piece of legislation. Discovery calls us to get beyond the labels “good” or “bad” and into the specifics of why something is either.
Discovery keeps asking questions to get to the core level of the “other’s” thinking, emotions and attitudes. Intelligence gathering listens to get justification for what one has already decided. Discovery is focused on the “other.” Intelligence gathering is focused on self and the advantages one gains from the intelligence. Discovery is curious. Intelligence gathering is decided. Discovery is open to unlearned possibilities. Intelligence gathering is closed to alternatives. Discovery takes determination. Intelligence gathering does also. It is the goal of the determination that is different.
All that said, discovery is for the purpose of discovering some thing or some one. Once discovery is complete you may still reject the idea or the action of the “other,” but you do so in a much different way than the rejection that comes at an emotional level. It may well be that there is a fundamentally irresolvable issue between you and the other. If so, you will have to decide how to handle that, and the best thing may to be walking away. My plea to you is to not choose that response until you have invested in deep discovery. The “other” deserves that as one of God’s creations and one He loves.
In the book of Proverbs it says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Note, an answer is given. It is an answer that follows hearing. There is way too much folly and shame going on all over the place right now because answers are being trumpeted with strength and emotion without the requisite hearing. May we not add to that folly and shame.