January 22, 2019

It's Not About Helping People

The pastor opened his sermon last Sunday (link here) with the provocative statement:  "Service is not about helping people."  After he let that sink in, he added, "It's about building relationships."  He then proceeded to outline a fascinating take on a very timely topic that I think transcends the religious application and is a lesson for everyone in just about any aspect of life.  To paraphrase, he said:

Relationships begin with honest conversation; and conversations that build relationships share five common characteristics:

  1. Relationship-building conversations must begin with vulnerability
  2. Real conversations involve thoughtful questions from both sides, with a willingness to truly listen and understand the other point of view.
  3. Conversations that result in true relationships take time.
  4. In honest conversations, expect to be surprised.
  5. Those involved in relationship-building conversations should anticipate being changed by them.

I grabbed a pencil and wrote down the points me made, but it got my wife and I talking about the state of communication in our modern society, where smart phones and media have replaced words and eye contact and a listening heart.

The art of conversation is lost today. To "communicate" anymore is defined as relating information or opinions to others.  People sit in sometimes anonymous isolation and share tidbits of thoughts and often caustic criticism of others on social media.  Two-way, thoughtful conversations have been replaced with a one-directional commentary that is presented to the other party with little regard to how that message is heard or accepted.

"Reaching Common Ground" requires a return to the traditional pattern of interpersonal communication outlined by the pastor, with each person coming to the conversation with: an open mind and heart; consideration for the other person; a deep interest in resolving differences;  and a hope that, through the interaction, they can both be changed in a way that makes them both better.

After witnessing via the news media a particularly vile example of societal communication gone wrong, my wife shared her thoughts with me on that topic in a wonderfully written essay.  I hope she won't mind if I paste her words here so that can be shared and preserved.  She said:

Yesterday we celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and all that he achieved for the sake of people of differences living peacefully together. I cannot help but say that all of his hard work, his preaching, his achievements and even his martyrdom has been relegated to the past. Why do I say that? Well it's being replaced with judgement, hatred and violence. If someone looks different, believes differently, votes differently or simply disagrees with another, condemnation follows. 

Tolerance is nowhere to be found. Elected leaders are encouraging intolerance for the sake of "winning." I keep hearing them says that "all are welcome in this country"; but the rest of this statement is, "you are welcome only if you agree with me." This country was founded so that all could choose freely their religion, political party, career, and more. Now if you choose differently you are threatened, humiliated, bullied, harmed or worse so that you are silenced. Is that what Dr. King fought for? Where did it all go so wrong? 

As we continue to erase and forget the history of our great nation, the lessons learned will be lost forever. When the time comes when we are forced to become alike - with no differences allowed - our humanity (compassion, brotherly love, fellowship, humaneness, kindness, kind-heartedness, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance, goodness, good-heartedness, gentleness, leniency, mercy, mercifulness, pity, tenderness, benevolence, charity, & generosity will be gone too.

So what is it we are fighting so hard to win?

Good question.  Like the pastor said, it's not about winning. It's not really about helping or teaching or leading or working together or World peace.  "It's all about building relationships." Without relationships, nothing else is possible.

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