Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Listening, Sharing, and Desiring Good for Others

Last Sunday at Sunday School, the pastor played for us an excerpt of a sermon by Richard Rohr.  Rohr was essentially saying that, instead of trying to prove that we’re right in arguments, we should listen to the other side and learn from it.  Otherwise, nothing new happens to us: how can we learn anything new if we are not willing to learn from another perspective?  The reason that the pastor played this for us is that we are going through the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles, which covers a lot of hot-button issues.

Somehow, we got on the topic of the importance of not thinking that we are the center of the universe.  The pastor was saying that a key stage of transition for children is when they enter kindergarten.  Before that time, many of them are the center of attention in their homes.  In kindergarten, however, they are not, and they have to share attention with other children.  The pastor was saying that a similar thing occurs for a number of adults when they first go to church.  Human nature wants to be the center of attention, but, at church, as in kindergarten, people have to come to terms with the reality that they are not the only people—-that there are other people, too.

The pastor made another point, as well.  We went through the section of the Social Principles about the nurturing community.  The pastor was saying that we have to feel good about ourselves before we can feel good about others.  We have to believe that we are worthy of good things, if we are to believe that others are worthy of good things.

There’s a lot there!  I’ll post some brief reactions.  I can probably write an exhausting treatise about each one, but I don’t want to do that!

1.  Listening to others.  Sure, I do that, in my own way.  Others may not be satisfied with how I do it, or the extent to which I do it.  But I do read different perspectives.  On the other hand, I am not particularly eager to change my mind.  Plus, certain perspectives simply disgust me.  And I would prefer to read other perspectives than to talk about issues with people in acrimonious political discussions.  Yet, I am pretty choosy in what I read, for some voices—-even voices on the other side from where I am—-strike me as more reasonable, thoughtful, and intelligent (maybe even friendlier) than other voices.

2.  Part of life is learning that you are not the center of the universe.  I know that I struggle with this; I am glad that it is human nature, which means that I am not alone in this struggle.  I think that I am perfectly willing to share attention with others.  At the same time, feeling totally alone or ignored is not good, either.  In my opinion, many people do not necessarily want to hog the whole show, but they do want to feel that they are part of the show.  I am just saying this, and I am not commenting on the church that I am attending.  I will say, though, that I feel more integrated into the church now that I have started to attend Sunday school.  At least I know more people, and they are aware of me.  Last Sunday before church started, I had a conversation with someone, and that was good.

3.  Do I believe that I need to feel good about myself before I can feel good about others?  Should I convince myself that I deserve good things, before I can believe that others deserve good things?  I am not sure if this is entirely a problem with me.  Notice the word “entirely.”  I would say that, in my mind, I do deserve good things.  My problem is that there are others who do not necessarily think that.  Do I feel good about myself, then?  Well, no, for I do wish that I were “more” this or that—-smarter, better at socializing, better at knowing that to say, more engaging as a writer, etc.  If I think that I deserve good things, does that make me desire good things for others?  It can, but it doesn’t necessarily.  If I am not faring well, then I have a hard time rooting for others to fare well, especially if they are people whom I do not like.  At the same time, experiencing a lack of success myself can make me more empathetic towards others, and perhaps make me happy when something good happens in another person’s life, especially if that person has been struggling.

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