I ended my last post talking about how we spend so much time dismissing others’ opinions, that we don’t listen. Our culture has lost the art of listening. We post diatribes on our Facebook page or letters to the editor or bumper stickers and billboards without really spending time on what that other person was trying to say or listening to responses. We get focused on our own single-minded track that we don’t really have a conversation.
Webster defines conversation as the “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” There are a couple of points I want to make here. First, it’s oral. True conversation doesn’t happen by competing online posts or signs or billboards. It is oral. Oral communication is best achieved face-to-face. In person. Where you can see the facial expressions, the tone of voice, all the nuances of real, true, two-way conversation.
The other point about conversation is it involves opinions and ideas. None of us has the solution nailed. Doesn’t matter what the topic, what the opinion, there’s always another perspective. That’s not to say there aren’t some absolutes in life. Facts. Things like Abraham Lincoln did actually exist and was actually President of the United States. What it means is when it comes to the issues brought up by Occupy (or anyone else, for that matter), there are some valid points. Social equity, fairness, justice, etc. But what I find is many people dismiss the topics without listening. And I wonder if they aren’t listening because the messenger doesn’t look and dress like they do or because the topic maybe hits just a little too close to home. The root word of conversation is from the Latin conversari, which means “to associate with” and is frequentive (repeated or intense action) of convertere “to turn around.”
True conversation involves an exchange of opinions (exchange is multi-directional) in a context of associating with another with the ability to turn around. In other words, as we have a conversation, I might need to change my opinion. I might actually learn something from you. And you from me.
I serve on the Eugene Planning Commission. And I have to say what I appreciate most about the Commissioners is they listen. Our meetings are truly a conversation. And with that interchange of ideas, thoughts, opinions, I believe we have made some very thoughtful decisions. And I think those decisions will ultimately achieve a long-term benefit to our community. I personally met with two City Planning staff yesterday about a topic currently before the Commission with an idea, a thought, that I had that was a bit different from what they presented. And in that conversation, they heard my reasons, I heard theirs and we ended up with an idea, a hybrid, that I believe will address all the concerns that are on the table. But only because we had a conversation and we listened.
The other major point I wanted to make was how so often by NOT engaging in true conversation, we miss the point altogether.
If you regularly follow my posts, you know I follow Jesus. His life, his teachings. And what I found throughout the writings about him is that even people in the first century missed the point and didn’t engage in true conversation. People would ask him his opinion (“Teacher, what about this…?”) and more often than not, Jesus would respond by asking them “What do you think? How do you see it?” Conversation. And even when they would ask questions like “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”, Jesus’ response basically was “Neither. You’re missing the point.”
Back to Occupy. The newspaper this morning reported on the total monetary costs Occupy Eugene has cost the City. And I guarantee the banter now will be about how much money we’re spending on “these homeless hippies destroying the lawn.” And when we do, we will have missed the point.
Eugene’s Mayor, Kitty Piercy, recently communicated “OE supporters see the Washington Jefferson camp as way to not just talk about the inequities in this country but to actually do something about them. They should tell you what they are trying to do and how its going in their own words.” Hmmm. Sounds like our Mayor is encouraging us to listen. To engage in actual conversation.
So who sinned? Occupy Eugene for destroying the lawn? Or the City for not booting them out?
Neither. We’ve missed the point.