Seek first to understand…

While I was working, I was involved in some time-management and leadership training from Stephen Covey a couple of different times. Since I’ve retired, I no longer use that particular calendar material, but there is still one item from the training that remains with me. That is one of the steps from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People…”Seek first to understand.”

I’ve been particularly aware of the value of that statement the last couple of weeks as the news in my faith community and my state (as well as in the national news) has been full of responses to a couple of very difficult situations.

The first is the LDS decision to deny sacraments to the children of same-sex couples until they are 18 and deny the behavior of the parents. I have to confess that as I have sought to understand the rationale behind that decision, I find it very difficult. I have read a number of comments and stories from both sides of the issue and–again, quite honestly–I am grateful not to be a member of a faith community where I would have to make that kind of choice. Seeking to understand is a challenge, but unless I am willing to try to do that, I cannot effectively reach out to those who have been wounded, regardless of their faith stance.

The other is the situation that has been playing out in the university in Columbia, Missouri which has culminated in the ouster of the university president and chancellor. Concerns and issues dealing with racism are apparently behind that situation and, again, there are widely different perspectives.

In reading comments and stories from those differing perspectives–as with those dealing with the LDS situation–it is clear that our backgrounds (i.e., faith understandings and race) have a significant impact on what we see. And I have to confess that I’ve heard some comments from people I consider friends that have disturbed me…

Some of those comments imply that there is only one way to look at a situation–and that is the way that person sees it. If they have not experienced bias–as expressed by those of a different color or faith–then surely that bias does not exist.

Other comments have downplayed the significance of the triggering event as being too trivial to cause someone to go on a hunger strike or to spark a protest. Perhaps…but that ignores what happens when those “trivial” events occur over and over again, building up a climate of fear…of anger…of resentment. I think about the event that sparked the fight over civil rights–a black woman who was tired refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. Trivial…perhaps…but when one’s worth is negated time and time again, there comes a point when one will finally say, “Enough is enough.”

Still other comments have implied that because the individual who went on a hunger strike in Columbia comes from a wealthy family, then he had no right to claim bias. Wealth does not necessarily protect one from slights and insults.

When I read the news…or listen to news stories…or hear statements from those who are running for political office that negate the life experiences of others, then I fear that we are building higher walls that will continue to divide us. We are never going to experience life the same way, but we have to start figuring out how to really listen to each other or we will never be able to make the kind of change that will allow us to value each other and live in peace.

“Seek first to understand…”–a good lesson to live by.

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