I remember growing up learning an old Irish song but I didn't understand the words. It started out, "Mares-e-dotes..." Then one day I heard the words as an adult and realized I was listening wrong:
"Mares eat oats, and does eat oats,
and little lambs eat ivy.
A kid will eat ivy too,
How many arguments would stop if we just slowed down long enough to really hear the words of the person we are fighting with? How many times do we explode, rant, blow things out of proportion only to later hear that the other person never said or meant what you understood as truth? How often do we act out, lash out, and defend relentlessly until someone sits us down and forces us to listen. Then the light-bulb comes on and we have to apologize profusely for the misunderstanding and our unnecessary reaction that caused more harm than help.
How many times do we never reach that place of understanding because we are so invested in the lies we tell ourselves that we refuse to hear the truth? We would rather be wrong than have to apologize or admit someone else is right. When we are unable to listen to another person's perspective we deny any possibility of compromise. Confusion will always result where true understanding is not the goal.
When I work with couples who are at opposite sides of an argument I listen to both sides. Then I show them that 90% of what they are saying they are in agreement. When they can agree on the bigger issue and only come to the 10% that they disagree on, they have an easier time coming to a compromise. In some situations, like politics, religion, abortion, and other "hot topics" the best compromise is to "agree to disagree" and respect each other's opinions and stop trying to force them to your side of the discussion. Allow each other their own perspective and move on. Most of the time people who have a desire to gain understanding are able to do this. The ones who are more focused on winning you over will continue to battle their position until they drive the other person away. They lost more than they won.
The next time you find yourself at odds with another person, try to understand their position. You already know your position. Write down what they say in terms you understand and ask them if you are understanding them correctly. When you have listed their position in bullet points, mark the ones you can agree with leaving the main components that you can discuss and expound on. When you whittle at the parts they get smaller and smaller and often you are able to identify the one thing the keeps you apart. It might be the one spice in an otherwise lovely recipe that is ruining the whole meal.
Finally, don't forget to care for the other person when trying to gain understanding. Jesus was talking one day to Peter and in an effort to impress upon Peter, he repeated his question three times,“Simon son of John, do you love me?” When Peter answered affirmatively Jesus told him to “Feed my lambs,” Jesus asked Peter two more times if he loved him, and Peter with increasing irritation answered in the affirmative. Jesus replied, “Take care of my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep." Peter was becoming frustrated at the questioning of his love by Jesus, but Jesus gently reframed his request so that Peter could fully understand the importance of the words and even more, the meaning behind the words. Jesus wasn't talking about sheep, he was talking about people.
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
John 21:16 NIV
Day 97: Care