A few weeks, the first of my four part series on youth and sexuality was published in the Evansville Courier. A commenter noted “Oh brother. Just more veiled religious propaganda under the guise of ‘medical guidance”. My first reaction upon seeing the comment was one of annoyance. Beyond any religious or moral predispositions, I do have serious concerns about the sexual realities of youth today, and I believe the statistics support these concerns.
But shortly after my initial reaction, I heard a voice saying, “But you do this too.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized that like the commenter, I can be quick to discount what others are saying based on both who they are and the perspective they seem to be coming from. Whether it is quickly jumping to conclusions about what my wife is saying because I (think I) know where she is going with a particular question or comment, or finding myself minimizing a worry expressed because a patient or coworker tends to be anxious, it is clear that I and most others regularly find reasons to ignore or discount a message because of what we perceive is truly being said.
As I noted in a prior article, sometimes it can occur because someone is labeled in a certain way, such as being a liberal or conservative. But it actually goes deeper than that, and there are two major reasons why we as people often lose out on opportunities to learn and grow from what we hear and read. One, we are quick to base our perceptions of something on the person who is delivering the message. If we perceive the person as angry, we might believe their comments to be vindictive or retaliatory. If we believe the person is religious, we might automatically view their thoughts as coming from a “moral” place.
The second way that we filter messages is what through what I will call a “worldview lens.” As with the commenter in my article, his disdain of the message was that it seemed to come from a religious origin guised as “medical guidance.” But this “worldview” or categorical lens perspective might occur through an infinite number of ways that we might stereotype a message, whether we see it as “conservative”, “imperialistic”, “discriminatory”, or any other type of category that might be used. What happens so often is that when we begin to digest a message that contradicts (or creates uneasiness with) our worldview, we can be quick to “shut down” what is being said as just one more irrelevant or annoying communication.
There is no doubt that all people, including my wife (sorry Amy) have agendas or intents that extend beyond or underlie the words being spoken. But what happens when we begin to jump to conclusions about a particular piece because of who is delivering it or what worldview it resembles is that we lose out on the opportunity to learn in ways that might benefit us greatly in all aspects of our lives. Sometimes the best lessons come from people that are the least like us, or love or hate us the most. An atheist may have much to teach a fundamentalist just as a Libertarian may have great insight for a Republican. Little kids can say rather profound things, even for adults, whereas wives have the ability to say vital remarks to husbands that no one would dare say. Even enemies can have wisdom for their foes.
Yet the moment we shut a message down a message because it or the person delivering it irks us is the moment that we begin shutting ourselves off from a formative life. We all love people who support who we are and what we believe. But if we avert our eyes and close our ears to those that arouse uneasiness in our gut, we are in effect settling into a state that is anything but the dynamic existence that every human being must assume if our society is to thrive.
I am not saying we should be naïve about potential underlying intents and hidden agendas. But maybe just don’t start there. It seems we would be best beginning with a greater openness to the message itself, not the messenger or worldview it seems to be coming from. Once we truly consider what is being said and how it might inform what we think or do, then we can begin apply our presumptions and dispositions if we so desire. And as far as Paul Adams (commenter), I have no idea if he read the rest of the series, and/or whether his thoughts remain unchanged (although I appreciate the spark he provided for my continuing introspection). But I would love to hear from him (or anyone else) if further thoughts ensued, and see what I might learn. Because if we are truly going to transform this community we call home, then we all must be open to learn from each other no matter where we or they come from.