You are at the centre of every experience you’ve ever had. You’re hard wired to be self-centred. It’s your default setting because, from your relative position, you are the centre of the universe.
Most of us eventually come to understand that our perspective is limited to our own experience of reality, which only accounts for a microscopic fraction of the collective experiences of humanity and history. However, there are two extremes humans seem to struggle with in light of this greater reality:
- The first is a natural gravitation towards our default. We acknowledge our perspective is only one of billions, but we continue to operate as if our perspective is more valid than others.
- The second extreme is epistemological relativism. This is basically the assumption that there are no absolute or universal truths, just different ways of interpreting things. You have “your truth” and I have “my truth,” but none of us can know “the” truth.
Both extremes hinder meaningful discourse in society and church.
Another complication to healthy dialogue is the dynamic of power. Whoever has power tends to dominate or disproportionately influence the conversation, whether they speak or not. Power can be based on personality, position, education, gender, wealth or many other things. It can also be based on worldview. If an individual holds the dominant metanarrative, or worldview, in their group, subculture or society, they hold power. This means that questions, ideas and people can be shut down if they contradict or offend the prevailing metanarrative or worldview of that group or society.
Meaningful discourse is complicated and always has been.
The first core practice of meaningful dialogue is genuine listening, with a sincere desire to understand what others are communicating, and why they think and believe that. Ideal church practice would be for people to articulate what they hear the other person saying, and wait for them to confirm that they have been understood before others offer their perspectives or rebuttals. This is no easy task.
For example, when others share extreme views I don’t agree with, my default is to drop “truth bombs” to blow up their ideas and opinions. However, this is rarely helpful. I’m slowly learning to apply “truth balm” instead.
Instead of throwing “truth” at others like explosives, I can allow the Spirit of Truth to gently nurture relationships with people I disagree with and with my own inner growth. For example, authentic openness to truth makes one genuinely curious. I’m learning to listen and ask honest questions to understand what and why others think and believe. I also invite Spirit to help me see the truth about why I’m internally reacting to what they are saying. Why am I upset, angry or offended?
This practice is really about attuning my heart and mind to the Spirit of Truth. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.
One evening, I was reflecting on how I was doing. On that particular day it wasn’t great. I was languishing. I had this thought, “Well, I’m doing my best.”
Then I sensed my inner light ask, “Is that true?”
It was not a judgmental or shaming question. It was an invitation to seek truth. Upon further reflection, I had to admit, “No, I’m not doing my best. I’m capable of doing more and doing better. The truth is, I’m struggling to do my best.”
My inner light immediately affirmed this: “Yes, that is truth.”
I remained open to Divine Presence and eventually thought: “Spirit, I want to do my best. I want to be my best self. I just don’t always seem to have the energy and sometimes I don’t know how.”
Again my inner light affirmed this: “That is truth.”
I’m learning the importance of intentionally checking in with the Spirit of Truth with my thoughts. When I think “untruths” and start believing them, that is when I start feeling caged or stuck. Only the truth will set us free.
I’m learning not to accept statements like, “I’m doing my best,” when the truth is, I’m not. This isn’t about judgment, shame or comparing ourselves to others. This is about a commitment to seek and abide in the Spirit of Truth.
As a result, I’ve discovered Spirit rarely drops “truth bombs” when I remain open to Divine Presence. Spirit typically applies “truth balm” that heals and nurtures. I’m trying to do the same with others, and I’m finding it’s more effective.
Troy Watson is a pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.