Say More About That

I want to make it my habit to use one phrase as my response to other people: say more about that. This statement is a countercultural act. Social media encourages quick responses to events. The statements that garner the most attention are usually the most opinionated—all the more if they come in the form of a sarcastic meme or gif—no matter if those opinions accurately reflect reality. I want to stop, listen, and learn, rather than simply offer my opinion. I want to hear the other person in a conversation instead of merely waiting for my turn to talk.

By temperament and training I make quick evaluations of arguments. As I read or listen to a person’s point of view I am constantly keeping a running tab of where I think they are right, and, more usually, where I think they are wrong. I have written before how my systematic theology professor in seminary, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, challenged me by his example to seek areas of agreement with others’ views before pointing out disagreements or offering corrections. I see I need to take a step further, or a step back, if you will. Before I look for areas of agreement, I need to make sure I understand the other person. To do that, I need to truly hear them.

When I read a statement from someone, I am quick to assign beliefs and values to them that have nothing to do with the argument they set forth. I think I understand their worldview entirely. If I disagree with an author on a political point, I will assume they espouse all sorts of unseemly social values. I hurriedly dismiss instead of seeking understanding. This is particularly dangerous in our pithy and distracted discourse. The truth is no one can be reduced to 140 characters. Slowing down and seeking deeper understanding of the other by asking them to, “Say more about that,” will hopefully help me see the nuance in the other’s argument. It will help me know more accurately whether I do agree or disagree with the person’s claim. And I will be better able to craft a thoughtful assessment of their position. Hopefully, such a discipline will help me see more dimensions in the person as well.

Last year Alissa Wilkinson wrote a thoughtful essay, “In Praise of Slow Opinions,” in which she laid out the reasons for not giving in to the pressure to form an immediate response and instead, to ruminate on a thought before giving your view. Wilkinson writes, “The good thing about forming opinions slowly, and then bouncing them off people who routinely disagree with you and aren’t afraid to say so—which describes most of my closest friends—is that when you are finally ready to write or say something, you can be more certain of it, because you’ve got a leg to stand on.”

I see a danger in this program. I might give in to the temptation to hide behind wanting more analysis when speaking against or for a controversial topic is needed. Asking someone to “Say more about that” should not be a means of avoiding taking a stand for justice. Rather, listening better should make me better able to clearly state why an unjust act or position is wrong. Sometimes situations demand swift action before a slow, reasoned discourse can happen. Just as knee-jerk responses are encouraged by our current instant discourse, my suggested discourse might have the opposite problematic effect of delaying when immediate response is needed. Discipline is needed to know when to speak and when to listen.

Using, “Say more about that,” may not drive up my shares or likes, but hopefully it will help me to understand people better and to appreciate their humanity more, even if I disagree with them.

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