“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” – James 1 v 19-20.
Look no further than the events of the past week in the United States of America, and you can see that we live in a world of firmly held opinions. These opinions are definitely not either-or preferences, like the ones that would govern the food we eat, or the color of the clothes we like to wear, in fact the events of last week show that the opinions held today, are held strongly enough to incite large scale conflict. With more news channels and media outlets accessible on more platforms than ever before, there is more than enough information to support our opinions, whatever they may be. This means that there is access to enough people who share our views, to make anything justifiable, scaffolding the conviction of being right and making the opinion even more of force to be reckoned with. The conflict evident in our world today shows that opinions have the power to destroy friendships, break up families, incite brutal violence and tear nations apart.
The events that have occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the last week, though disturbing, looked incredibly familiar. People protesting about what they believe is nothing new. The images of the protests that danced around on my phone and computer screen seemed to blend into the multitude of images of many historical movements. The demonstration of opinion, often violently, has a long, long history.
In South Africa (my home country), deeply held opinions causing rifts in our society is commonplace. Over the last couple years, we have seen violent protests against our governance, against university fees and against statues of colonialists. In the wake of these events, EVERYONE had an opinion, held deeply enough to argue to with ANYONE about. It was loud. Protests had escalated and different groups on either side of the conflict were shouting their view so loudly that nothing could be heard. In the midst of the noise, the conflict, the violence, while I was watching the news, and picking up snippets of the goings on through social media, with my own admittedly strongly held opinions and bones to pick with anyone who disagreed, I remember seeing an image on my Facebook feed. It was a layered image of what looked like a university campus with the bold letters of the Afrikaans word, “Luister” meaning “Listen” printed across it. The reminder to listen fell like soft rain on my angry heart.
Listen. It is probably the last thing anyone with any sort of opinion is inclined to do, and yet, I believe it is the only way to gain a truly informed perspective on a wide variety of conflict related issues facing this country and the world at large. I find myself convicted by the words in the book of James, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Perhaps if we suspended the opinion, just for a moment and choose to really hear the human beings holding the opposing view, considering their plight, we might be able to start dialogue that is more likely to build up than tear down.