Well, another year has come and gone on Entering the Public Square, so I thought I would give you a rundown of the 10 most read articles on this website in 2017! Thank you for sticking with me for another year, and I look forward to joining you again in 2018.
It is fascinating to think about a new year because in actuality, we are only a few days away from the end of 2016. People make resolutions on January 1 to make major life changes, and that can be a very good thing. However, I think the reason that many of them fail to stick is because an arbitrary line drawn in the sand dependent only on a particular time is rarely a good way to make lasting change.
Consider how difficult it is for people to quit smoking cold turkey. Some people do it, and that is a great thing for their health and the health of people around them. However, most people do not follow through when they try to quit because it is hard. Just saying I want to quit smoking on one particular day doesn’t mean that I am prepared to actually make that major life change.
It takes something deeper than just saying that I want to do a particular good thing on a particular day. Somehow, it has to become intertwined with our lifestyle to make a complete change. For example, we need to perhaps avoid situations where we will be tempted. We need to literally throw out the cigarettes that we still have in our house so that we do not have them readily available. We need to do things that are specifically tied to changing our action rather than simply saying some words.
It takes an ideological change to improve our chances of making it stick. If you read this article from healthcommunities.com about quitting smoking, they fully acknowledge that many people actually go back to smoking because it is hard. However, they recommend some ways that can improve your percentage of success, and they include literally writing down the reasons that you want to quit. In other words, you need to have reasons for doing this, and you need to be clear on what those reasons are.
This applies in every area of life, and it also applies to the mission of this website. We can all say things and draw arbitrary lines in the sand. I can say that I am Christian for example. I can say that I want to make a positive change in the world.
I’m not just writing this to slam all the resolutions I assume you will make to try to make positive changes in your life this year. In fact, that is a great thing, and if the above smoking example applies to you, I hope you quit. If you want to get more exercise, I hope you follow through with it. However, don’t just say that you’re going to do something without finding out the reasons why you are doing it. When the difficult times come and you want to give up, you need to have something beyond an arbitrary date to fall back on. You need to have a worldview that explains why something is important to you and why it is worth sticking with.
2016 largely represented a failure to listen. Political party elites didn’t realize the populist revolutions that were taking place on both sides of the aisle. People were ending friendships over a failure to listen to people with a different perspective.
Let’s make 2017 a little bit different. Why don’t we dedicate 2017 to the art of the conversation?
I saw an article in the New York Times recently entitled, “How to Have More Engaging Conversations in Everyday Life.” Written by Jonah Engel Bromwich, this piece suggests three main ways to obviously have more engaging conversations: unite around a common interest, be friendly, open and polite and don’t overthink it.
I think that this is generally good advice for handling one half of a conversation. These are pretty straightforward guidelines for how I ought to conduct myself, and they do help us find more interesting conversation. I would add one thing to this list though. I would suggest that in order to truly have good conversations, we need to be willing to listen.
By listen, I don’t simply mean that we stop talking for a period of time to allow someone else to speak. We need to actively pay attention to and attempt to comprehend the words that other people say. I know that this is a basic skill, and I think that we ought to learn next before we enter elementary school. However, when we get so wrapped up in our own world, we fail to listen to people on the outside.
I’m not saying that we have to affirm everything as true. If we listen, there’s bound to be disagreement, and in a conversation, that is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. The conversation is the perfect place to have a disagreement because each of the two people is not only conducting themselves in the manner that Bromwich suggested above but also listening as I have suggested here.
I don’t know that the end goal of a conversation is always persuasion. Certainly, there are times where I want people to come to my perspective. I wish that every time I spoke to someone about Jesus Christ, they immediately understood how important the Gospel was for them. I would love everyone to be persuaded by my presentation of the Gospel. Experientially, that simply is not true.
In a true conversation though, I have been given an opportunity to speak by another person who is trying to listen and comprehend. Then, I will do the same for that person. We’ll ask questions and interact with the ideas that each other presents.
I know that many people are still unhappy about a variety of things. I know that it is easier to simply shut down and be upset. It is easier to rant and rave than it is to have a conversation. That being said though, I think conversation is valuable, and as we move into the new year, let’s work together to create a culture of conversation. I think that would be a lot better than the ranting and raving we have right now.