Whether it’s Brexit, Trump or some other political upheaval, it seems like the internet has become inundated with people’s opinions in the last few years. Aside from the fact that it is encouraging to see people taking an interest in current affairs and taking responsibility for what we are doing on and to our planet, I found some of the things that I read deeply disturbing and quite upsetting.
I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while, but have felt like I don’t know enough about the current situations and their implications on the world. But then I read this:
“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” – Proverbs 18:17
As someone with a scientific background, this rings true – an issue may be researched and studied in great detail, but there will always be contradictory evidence, no matter how much data is collected. There is no true constant to life except life itself, and the same is true for everything else we come across; whether it be politics or love or economics. Hence the amount of differing opinions and ways of doing things. And thus, I will never feel like I know enough, but can trust that a foundation built on the Bible can only be a good thing.
Which is why I become so disheartened when I see the things people say online, and the manner in which it is so easy to lash out at others. It’s easy to do when we’re sat behind a screen, and I cannot claim innocence in this regard. Nonetheless, we should examine the attitudes we exhibit towards others from behind the screen in the same way that we examine our behaviours towards others on a face to face basis.
Perhaps one of the reasons for our behaviours towards each other is the call to increased political engagement. I remember years ago being chastised by my friend for not going to vote, and whilst I do agree with the importance of engaging with the way leadership is executed, the language that was used implied that it is an obligation as opposed to a right – a unique freedom that is not freedom if it is pressured upon us. This kind of thinking is reflected in conversations, along with the assumption that if someone feels well read on a topic, their opinion must be right.
In contrast to this, the Bible clearly shows us that we should never stop listening and learning, even if we think we are right. Valuing listening over talking and upholding knowledge is a means to discernment and freedom:
“Apply your hear to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.” – Proverbs 23:12
“Ears that hear and eyes that see – the Lord has made them both.” – Proverbs 20:12
“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” – Proverbs 17:27
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” – Proverbs 19:2
“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” – Proverbs 18:2
If we do not hold onto these, the result can often be arrogance and lack of empathy. A really good example of this was the reaction to some findings regarding the demographics in the EU referendum. According to a detailed analysis by the BBC (find the article here and a radio programme here from about 23:20-35:45), those who were more educated were more likely to vote remain. Amongst those interviewed in the radio programme (linked previously), those who had a degree believed that they had made a more informed decision than those who had voted to leave. There was also the belief that those who had voted to leave had done so based on racism – something which I also observed in online conversations. This is an ironic assumption – if someone believes they are better able to make informed decisions, then logic (and experience of the way learning works) would suggest that assumptions as to the reasons other people didn’t vote the same way should be avoided.
But this is not what I have observed – rather the opposite; a dismay that anyone could think otherwise. Such dismay is also reflective of the ‘echo chambers’ in which we live – and thus, the barriers that we have created between ourselves and ‘those other groups’.
This is particularly odd for Christians, because it should mean that the one thing we all have in common – our faith and trust in Jesus, brings people with all sorts of backgrounds and political opinions together. It should mean we get a wider view of what is happening in the world, and it should mean we gain a better understanding of why someone feels a certain way – and that perhaps they are right, and we are not.
Political activism is not a bad thing. In fact, speaking up for others and holding each other accountable is part of our calling:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9
“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” – Proverbs 21:13
“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word.” – Proverbs 15:23
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17
The question is; how do we speak out and what is our aim – what is our attitude in our words and actions? Miriam and Aaron are chastised for speaking out, even though they probably felt they were right to challenge Moses (Numbers 12). In other instances, we see the prophets making an active stand to relay to the Israelites that they need to change their ways. And then there are the ‘silent’ ones; the ones who change their environment by their lives and interactions with people, rather than organising big campaigns – like Joseph, who brought about change from a prison cell, or Mary, who simply obeyed God, or Anna, who lived her whole life praying and fasting in the temple.
In the end, things will never stop changing; there will always be something we are not happy about, and there will always be people who need our help (John 12:8). But God isn’t like that – He is a constant that we can turn to for guidance (James 1:17). His calling for our lives is for forever, not just for this campaign or that political movement. In essence, His calling for us is to worship Him above other idols, like politics. So how can we overcome our tendency to need to be right?
- Remember God is greater than the troubles of this earth. Though we may not understand the suffering we observe, He hears our prayers (Luke 11:9) – so pray for change, and then be that change.
- Be willing to engage with others in conversation who hold an opposing view. What are their reasons, and what can you learn from them? Perhaps this means bridging the gap to other groups first, and creating relationships with people you don’t usually spend time with.
- Give what you can. Don’t expect change at the top to create a perfect country, but work towards providing for those who benefit from your time and energy. There are plenty of volunteering opportunities out there, and plenty of skills that can be learnt and put to good use. Become an active part of your community in order to experience others’ perspectives and change perspectives around you.
- Consider your motives and reasoning behind your opinions – are they led by others’ opinions of you? Are they based on a number of observations? Are they biblical?
- Essentially what this means is to let your life be led by God, not your opinions. Key to this is accepting that you may be wrong. Listen more, learn more, speak less. Be respectful when talking to others, even if they aren’t being respectful to you. Remember that aggression very often is a result of insecurity and hurt. Reflect on that when you see it in others and yourselves, and offer an alternative. Be the light.
“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barrel gates of a citadel.” – Proverbs 18:19
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
Nobody is perfect, and we all want to be heard. But the great paradox of being free and thus being able to create effective change is that those who are most assertive don’t feel the need to be heard. They understand that there are many ways to overcome fear, and they are comfortable with the notion that others may not respect them. I am challenged by this daily. But learning takes time. Who knows; we may yet surprise ourselves with the big changes we can create through the small, silent actions.