Daily Readings: Deuteronomy 15-16, 1 Corinthians 15, Proverbs 9
Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.
For most of my life I viewed this passage in Proverbs purely the way it was written, through the lens of how I should deal with others. I would read this passage and think to myself, “There is so much truth in this! There are just some people who are pointless to correct. If only they were open minded to wisdom! They are the epitome of the mocker described in Proverbs! They are so closed minded!” The fundamental flaw in this view is that it automatically assumes that I am wise and have all of the correct answers. By viewing this passage simply through the lens of how to deal with others, we miss the opportunity for self-reflection that we are offered as well.
This passage applies to every area in life, but I think it is safe to say that it manifests itself in today’s world most prominently through politics. There are very few people that have much of an interest in hearing what the other side has to say on an issue. We view most conversations as nothing more than a debate. Even the most patient of us typically only listen and attempt to appear open minded as a tactic to open the mind of the person we are with, find holes in their argument, and eventually attempt to “win them over to our side”. Very little listening is done with a genuine attempt to understand the position of the other person. Very rarely do we take down our own walls and ask, “Is there some wisdom in what they are saying?”
Frequently the answer very well might be no. On some issues, the answer is a pretty obvious and incredibly definitive no, and that is only hammered home more and more the longer we listen! However, by not being willing to actually engage, listen, and consider the thoughts of others, we become a mocker and lose the chance to “add to our learning and become wiser still.” And in cases where we come away feeling like we are on the right side of the argument after listening further, we have lost the opportunity to have any impact on the other person’s views as well. No one is going to take kindly to being called an idiot who doesn’t actually understand how the world works. No one who is mocked or insulted based on their views ends up opening their mind and coming away wiser because of the interaction.
This was absolutely my default throughout high school, college, and in my early to mid 20’s. I knew how the world worked, the correct sides to all arguments, and felt confident in making my case in such a way that would be hard to counter.
This all changed leading up to the 2008 election. (Wow that seems like a lifetime ago currently!) I was 26 at the time and decided to do an intellectual exercise for myself. I took 8-10 political hot button topics and actually asked myself, “What if I am wrong on this issue? Do I actually believe this because I have truly considered every aspect of the topic, listened to people from both sides with an open mind, looked at actual research and facts presented by each, and thought through the philosophical ramifications of the position I currently support? Or have I just always believed it and sought out sources of information that worked to confirm my already existing bias?”
Wow, that was challenging! For about 6 months I wrestled with quite a few topics. I spent time on just about every hot button topic imaginable and really tried to be open minded to the possibility that I was either completely wrong on my stance or that it might be more complicated than I originally thought and that a more nuanced approach was necessary than I wanted to admit.
I came away changing my stance almost completely on about 30-40% of topics and having a far more nuanced view on most of the others. At this point I am pretty confident I would get crushed if I ever ran for office, by both sides, because there are simply too many issues on both sides of the aisle that I support. We demand that every person get in line with 100% of the party platform or we call you ignorant! It is incredibly natural to choose a side that seems to fit more of our beliefs and then embrace what we are told to think by that side on all topics, instead of deciding what we believe and accepting the fact that “our party” might not agree with us on everything.
One of the biggest revelations I had in doing this exercise was the realization that politics, and our country as a whole, would be far better off if more people only agreed with 70% of what their party told them to support. Our country would be far better off if people looked into individual issues on their own, heard arguments from both sides, and made their own personal decision about how they feel on the topic.
I now listen with a far more open mind to people that I disagree with. I really want to understand where they are coming from. I want to know why they believe what they believe and if there is any truth in their position. Sometimes I am surprised by how well thought out their position truly is, even if I disagree. Sometimes, I find myself being swayed slightly or even quite a bit towards a portion of their argument, and am thankful I took the time to ask the question and listen. At a bare minimum, I am at least thankful for better understanding the psychology of why they believe what they believe instead of simply pigeon holing them because “I already know why they think the way they do”.
Virtually every single person you talk to today will say that the world is completely divided right now and do not like the polarized and toxic nature of our country. On this point, virtually everyone on both sides agree! (Other than those who actively seek to continue this divide for their own purposes) However, most of us prefer to shake our heads and say, “It is too bad the other side is so full of mockers and not people willing to seek wisdom.”
This past year has caused me to revert back into this tribal feeling more and more. I have found myself slipping back into a mindset where I view this passage in Proverbs 9 as advice for me on how to deal with others and not advice directed to me, encouraging me to not be a mocker, but to instead seek wisdom.
The world has plenty of mockers.
This morning I am making a decision to go back to being willing to learn.
In the words of Jerry Maguire: Who’s coming with me?
Thought to ponder
If I am being honest with myself, have I spent the last 12 months as a mocker or willing to learn?