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Can Better Listening Help Our Divided Country?
By Col. Scott McChrystal, Battle Ready Ministries Board Advisor
Growing up in public schools, I vividly recall reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. With my right hand over my heart, I particularly loved the last words of the pledge: “…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I was no expert on world affairs, but I was already aware how fortunate I was to live in the great country we call the United States of America. Added to this was the fact that I was a military brat in a great family. I felt thankful and safe throughout my growing-up years.
Through much of our history, the unity with diversity that millions of everyday people shared has strengthened our nation. Citizens have been free to express their views without fear of censorship, reprisal, or worse. These days, those assurances are in jeopardy. A growing number of young Americans no longer feel fundamentally united with their homeland. Hatred and disunity are increasing across our country. A growing number of individuals, organizations, and corporations seek to silence personal views with which they disagree. Their strategy is to divide and conquer. Unfortunately, they’re succeeding.
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I believe most Americans are decent folks, a silent majority that doesn’t support woke ideology. They’re not trying to review our nation’s history with the mission of pointing out how racist we’ve been. Nor are they trying to find fault with great patriots of the past so they can tear down statues and rename universities. Yes, polls indicate a growing percentage of young adults prefer socialism over capitalism, but most Americans desire to live quiet, peaceful lives earning an honest living and rightly enjoying the fruits of their labor.
What can individual Americans do to promote unity and discourage hatred? A simple but very important step would be to become better listeners. Practically every area in life flows better when good listening is practiced—marriage, parenting, education, work, medical care, social media, diplomacy, and politics, just to name a few.
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God’s Word assigns great value to listening:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19,20, NIV)
James isn’t talking about merely hearing, but really listening with the goal of understanding what the other person is saying. Disrespect and a lack of civility happen largely because people aren’t listening to each other. They throw out their own opinions on social meeting sites, on podcasts, on TV, or in other ways believing they have all the answers. Under this onslaught, many Americans are afraid to express what they believe because of the responses they’ll get.
What are some steps to listening better? Here are some thoughts.
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Identify why you’re not a good listener. Perhaps you let yourself become too distracted. Maybe you haven’t put value on what others are saying. Or could you be thinking you already know what the other person is going to say? All of us have filters that limit our ability to listen well. Try to discover what these filters are and eliminate them. Don’t be afraid to ask family members or co-workers to honestly evaluate your listening habits.
Don’t just listen. Try to understand what others are saying. It has been said that if you don’t understand what the other person is saying, you don’t have the right to disagree with them. Ask questions if you need to. Sometimes you won’t want to hear what the other person is really saying because it doesn’t line up with your opinion. But you can give value to any person as a soul created by God and therefore precious to Him. One final thought—think how you feel when another person listens and understands you. That kind of interaction is a comfort even if the other person can’t do anything to help you with your situation. Feeling understood is a big part of mental and emotional health.
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Decide today that you’re going to be a more caring person through better listening. If you haven’t been perceived as a good listener previously, those around you will quickly notice the changes you are making in your listening habits. And you will discover others are more transparent with you because they know you’ll listen.
Better listening really can help rescue our country from hatred and disunity. Your responsibility and mine before the Lord and our fellow man isn’t an impossible one. It’s simply to promote better relationships and understanding. Good listening will go a long way toward that goal.
Chaplain (Col.) Scott McChrystal, Ret.
Chaplain (Col.) Scott McChrystal was commissioned in 1970 and served 31 years on active duty, 10 as an infantry officer and the remainder as a United States Army chaplain. His line officer experience included a tour in Vietnam as an Infantry Platoon Leader and three assignments with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
His final assignment was as the senior chaplain at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
He retired from active duty in 2005 and served as the Military/VA Representative and Endorser within the Chaplaincy Department for the General Council of the Assemblies of God from 2005-2019.
His decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Award, the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, and the Army Ranger Tab. His education includes a Master of Business Administration Degree, a Master of Divinity Degree, a Doctor of Ministry Degree, and graduation from The United States Army War College.
In recent years, he and his wife have written several Christian devotionals. In addition, Scott co-authored a Christian action-novel and served as the managing editor for the The Warrior’s Bible, an application Bible for the military community.
He presently serves as the Executive Liaison for The Warrior’s Journey, a non-profit organization that supports the military community.
He’s also a member of the Distinguished Advisory Board for Battle Ready Ministries. He and his wife, Judy, live in Springfield, Missouri, and have 4 children and 12 grandchildren.
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