In the Era of Opinions, Be Quick to Listen: People Need to Be Understood More Then They Need Your Two Cents

News travels more rapidly then electricity these days, whether it be an interview concerning gender identity or massive protests on city streets, and the situation in the limelight begins to unravel before our very eyes, thanks to trending social media.

Everyone feels compelled to weigh in with an opinion. A hashtag is assigned, by someone much more clever then I, and the tweets start piling up faster then cards in a game of Speed. People near and far suddenly remember they have a finger to point with, and each of them believe that they have the correct point of view, while the rest of the country is going to hell in a hand basket.

Sound familiar?

Now, even though I'm a contributing member of the blogosphere, I tend to keep my thoughts on national headlines to myself. Being a private person by nature, I prefer to take in an abundance of information and process it internally. To be a fly on that inter-cranial wall could be quite frightening, I'm sure.

But the other half of it is, I don't think the world needs to voice an opinion on everything. 

In this Era of Opinions, I fear that we have elevated the opinions of the leaders, reporters, and celebrities in society to a lofty pedestal, taking them as gospel. Public figures throw their two cents into the ring and onlookers begin falling in line with them, taking sides as if watching a bull fight, only everyone is convinced that they are the ones rooting for the matador.

I sit back and watch the trending topics unfold, leaders and celebrities and newscasts stepping forward one by one to cast their vote on the matter, as if somehow the one with the most backers wins. I see commenters voicing either their proud support or utter disappointment in the public figure for their stance on the matter.

I mean, how could we possibly disagree with each other on such sensitive issues as race, systemic poverty and violence, and sexual identity??

What I've come to realize is that behind every opinion, especially those held with deep conviction, exists a backstory. But seldom do we take time to ask the right questions and attempt to understand how they arrived at the conclusion they did. No, we're generally too busy throwing our own spare change into the playing field, hoping to make a small dent in the helmet of thick-headedness worn by mankind. Maybe the thought is that if enough people chime in, together they'll be able to break through.

But here's what I know:

When all is said and done, you're free to think whatever you want, but you haven't loved well until you've tried to understand. And understanding, oftentimes, requires withholding judgement opinions and just listening. Being still. Sitting there in the uncomfortable awkwardness for a while and just taking it all in. Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

And you know what? Even after you've heard and understood, you still may not agree, and that's okay. But now you've earned the right to voice your opinion with kindness. Not a moment before, friends. I'm a firm believer that until you've walked a mile in someone's shoes, you have no idea what it's like to be them and shouldn't pretend to, even from behind a computer screen. 

A chasm exists between knowing intellectually and knowing from experience. Take parenting for example. There was a time in my life when I thought I knew all about how to be a good parent, internal chastisement practically seeping from my pores at the sight of a toddler's public meltdown and unsolicited advice at the ready.

Then I had kids.

And now I know how much I did not know.

More then this world needs another opinion, it needs love and action. Before you sound off on the latest Internet debate, do something. Make a donation, reach out to someone you know who is personally affected by the current hot topic, or extend a hand across the divide and sit down with someone you don't understand, and try to.

Because there's always two sides to every story, and neither one of them is the whole truth. The Dowager Countess said something like that regarding not taking sides in a divorce, and I think in her witty wisdom, she was spot on. Likewise, your opinion on the matter doesn't automatically void another. Often they are two parts of a whole, the big picture of which we will most likely not be able to fully grasp this side of heaven.

At the end of the day, we all share the common thread of humanity, and we need to start focusing more on the things that bring us together instead of tear us apart. Last week I tried to search Google for "children's books on homophones," but what I actually typed was "children's books on homophobes." The search results were much different then what I'd expected, as you can imagine, although the two words are only differentiated by a letter.

But in that silly mistake lies a valuable lesson, and that is if we as a people choose to focus more on the homophones rather then the homophobes, we'll all be in a much better place. We are as different as the myriad of unique facets of the God who created us, so let's find a common ground and cordially agree to disagree on the rest.

Maybe what the world needs is less pontificating and more listening.

Less assuming and more understanding.

Less suggestion and more action.

Less accusation and more love.

We need to listen more because it's impossible to teach an ignorant person something they think they already know. And how will you realize you don't know unless you stop to listen? Unless you take the time to walk down the street in their shoes, step by painful step?

Opinions are chump change--everybody's got em. But if they don't inspire us to extend grace to each other, to make a difference in the life of just one, then they're useless. Go forth and love in action today, my friends, and check your opinions at the door. Because what you think isn't nearly as important as how well you love.

Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.
St. Francis of Assisi