Despite protests to the contrary, none of us hold our deepest values through simple logic. We have all had events or relationships in which we learned to treasure these things from experience.
When you listen deeply to a person’s story, it is much less likely you simply relate them to other people that have hurt or broken your trust in the past.
the painful or sensitive nature of these events. To risk that disrespect for the sake of the possibility of them knowing you is an act of the deepest courage. It is choosing to hope rather than to be cynical. It is hope for understanding and compassion. It is hope for someone who may not share our values on the surface — to potentially share our values at a deeper level of resonance.
What is it about sharing our deepest experiences that can create such compassion and understanding?
The first thing is nuance. Your ability to see nuance in a person happens when one’s heart stops saying, “oh, i know your type, you guys always…” When you listen deeply to a person’s story, it is much less likely you simply relate them to other people that have hurt or broken your trust in the past. Their story sets them apart because of its nuanced details, and you begin to perceive them more deeply as a unique person, not just a category. Their needs or beliefs often seem more sensible, given their unique experience – even if you still disagree with them. And your overgeneralizations about them fall away.
When you see a person in a nuanced way, new possibilities emerge of being together with them. For instance, if you previously just thought of them as a person who was selfish, now perhaps you can view them as a person with outstanding legitimate needs, that can sometimes be selfish but at other times, very valid, given their story. It becomes possible to imagine a true friendship with them, because it’s now apparent that they are not purely selfish. One can imagine that if there were boundaries in place, and a permission to talk honestly about moments when they seem selfish, they could actually be an ally or friend.
There is often a gentle dialogue that happens between one’s head and ones heart as their story is heard. The heart may say, “But they are just like so-and-so who I have no respect for” while one’s head may respond – “but wait! Maybe I have too swiftly judged them.” Or conversely, one’s mind may say, “they are wrong,” but one’s heart might grasp that they have deep reasons for not doing what we think they should.
The surface of our storylines may seem worlds apart, but when we reveal the deepest story of what happened to us to form us, there is often a surprising common ground that we share.
Besides the nuances that we begin to see in people, this level of listening also reveals our common ground. Henri Nouen wrote, “anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal.” The surface of our storylines may seem worlds apart, but when we reveal the deepest story of what happened to us to form us, there is often a surprising common ground that we share. People that have taken opposite positions on an issue have often done so for profoundly similar reasons: self-preservation, perhaps, or love for a child. These are unexpected glimpses into the reality that we are all made in God’s image.
What happens at the bottom?
Perhaps, nothing. If no compassion or understanding has been created, people can detach, wanting to go separate ways. This is simply tragic, if it happens because we have refused to let our own ego let us see compassionately or deeply. It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God as it works to show us how God sees them.
It can also be legitimate to realize that while we have new compassion or understanding, it would not be an easy fit to have our lives aligned closely. But could it be that that work is what God is asking of us? Jesus, who taught us that being his followers would be shown by how we loved each other across many divides, will often lead us into the hard work of this kind of love. When His followers shirk this greatest command (John 14) in favour of making things easier on ourselves, we are often spurning the greatest gift, the greatest sign, that the church can show to the world: the love that crosses differences, the love that made Christ ‘die for us, while we were yet sinners.” This is self-indulgent.
Unity and diversity can blend in many creative ways.
On occasion, is it legitimate to say goodbye? It is true that sometimes we are at such cross-purposes that it is better to love each other from more distance. But only after deep self-examination of our ourselves, in which we question whether we are just wanting to indulge either our pragmatism at the expense of the miracle of love, or simply to make things easier for ourselves by avoiding the hard work of figuring out how to support each other given our diversity.
When some distance is needed, our minds can simply reach for an either-or, all-or-nothing solution. But unity and diversity can blend in many creative ways. If we are slow and deliberate, asking many “I wonder if this could work” questions, perhaps the way of being together may appear after time. Almost always after some time! And with it, the miracle of love.
In that moment, Christ is revealed. And so is a more beautiful way to be together, moving forward, at higher trust.