Discussions And Winning


Roulette_in_Las_VegasI’ve been on the Internet long enough to have involved myself in a good number of discussions. I’ve gotten myself banned from a couple sites for being contentious, and have had a fair share of mud flung in my direction.

From where I sit, having learned a thing or two along the way, I think people enter into Internet discussions for one of four reasons. Some people take part by dropping their explicit opinion without reading any other comments and without returning to engage any opposing views. In other words, they drop their opinion and run. They are like drive-by shooters.

Others want to be the wise professor, showing all the other peons, er, people, what they know.

Some percent of people care more about winning than they do what it is they are discussing. Consequently, if they are corrected or challenged in what they say, they must find a way to attack back, to gain points for the ones they lost.

Finally, there are some people who actually want to engage in give-and-take, to consider a subject from a different perspective, to learn even though they may continue to disagree. They may even discover they have far more common ground with those in disagreement than they had once presumed. In short, they are willing to engage in a discussion without the need to win.

I have to admit, I’m a fan of this latter type of interaction. I like learning new things. I like having my own assumptions and beliefs challenged. It forces me to examine where I stand and see if it’s actually firm enough to hold me up.

More often than not, I come away from those kinds of discussions with a firmer conviction. Sometimes I’m forced to do some homework—to search out answers to a question I hadn’t thought of before or know little about. That also is a good thing—a very good thing.

But the “discussions” that devolve into gamesmanship in which one party cares more about winning than about considering both sides of a question, or about the people with whom they’re dialoguing, bring out the worst in me. As my family can tell you, I don’t like losing. I don’t like eating humble pie. I don’t like people calling me names or laughing at my expense. My instinct is to fight back, to prove I know just as much, can be as snarky as they, can take them down a peg.

In short, I’m tempted to adopt the “discussion is about winning” mindset.

It’s a temptation, sadly, because “everyone’s doing it.” The desire to win has become far too prevalent in western society. We want our sports teams to win (I sure do!) We want the singer we voted for to win. We want our political candidate to win. We want to beat the other driver in a race to the next red light, and we surely don’t want to let that jerk in ahead of us.

The bottom line, I guess, is pride. We want to come out looking like we did something (picked the best team, the best singer, the best candidate). We want to outshine the next guy, even when we don’t know that guy and will never see him again. It’s our own ego we are trying to satisfy.

Ego, I think, is what drove those teachers in Atlanta to cheat for their students. In fact, CNN reported that during former Georgia District Attorney Michael Bowers investigation, “he heard that educators cheated out of pride, to earn bonuses, to enhance their careers or to keep their jobs” (emphasis mine). Ego drives gang members to tag their turf and protect it. Ego drives businessmen to pull shady deals so they can climb over their buddy as they ascend the corporate ladder. Ego drives soccer moms to brag about their kids’ accomplishments even as they conveniently forget to mention the problems. Ego causes church leaders to play the number game—how many converts, how many baptisms, how many attendees.

And why shouldn’t ego be a growing factor in today’s society? From the moment kids can walk and talk, parents and TV and educators and most every other adult they come in contact with, tell them they can do whatever they put their little minds to. Unfortunately, “Just win, baby” actually hasn’t turned out to be much of a winning formula.

Some people believe it and spend their lives trying to get to whatever goal they desire and believe they deserve, regardless of the methods required to do so. Others who learn they aren’t the winners their parents said they were, live vicariously through their own children or through their favorite golfer or race car driver; others steep themselves in the gaming community and make all parts of life about winning. Including Internet discussions.

As long as we live with the idea that discussions are about winning, we doom ourselves in two ways: we will stop learning about other people and what they think—a dangerous circumstance in our ever shrinking world—and we will devalue compromise.

Once, in the US men of government were considered great statesmen if they could work out a compromise. If two sides saw an issue in opposing ways, a statesman was the person who helped both sides to come together and agree on something workable; though neither side got all they wanted, both sides got some of what they wanted.

Apparently we no longer value the role of a peacemaker. Rather, we want a litigator who can take the matter to court and WIN. Ah, there it is again. This passion to come out on top.

No wonder Jesus sounds so radical to our culture. He said things like, The last shall be first, and the first last. And, Love your enemies; do good to those who misuse you. And take up your cross daily, and follow me.

Our culture says things like, The one who dies with the most toys wins. But Jesus said, Store up your treasure in heaven where moth and rust can’t get to it.

I don’t think a person can turn on and off the desire to win. I think God needs to do something in a person’s heart to give life a greater meaning than just elbowing out the other guy. I think God needs to do a work in a person’s heart to make them care more for others. Even in Internet discussions.

Good Listening


advice-from-dad-202988-mToday on Facebook a friend of a friend decried the loss of debate in our society. I happen to enjoy debate but know exactly what this man was talking about—so often online discussions break down. Sometimes either the tone of the original post or one of the comments is rancorous or the topic is contentious or the view of the writer, extreme. All these can incite something closer to hate speech than to discussion.

Unfortunately, contentious exchanges aren’t the only reason people no longer enter into substantive discussions. Another reason is that we in western society are losing the will to listen to each other. I’ve seen it on line; I’ve seen it in person.

Online our communication suffers because we’re all in a hurry and one or more party is skimming, not reading. Of course some commenters simply drop their opinion into the middle of a conversation and run away. Others do not take the time to read what people before them have said, so their contribution is warmed over rehash.

In real life we are also in a hurry, so our communication with one another is often part of multitasking. One example is a practice we know to be dangerous (and in some states, illegal)—texting and driving—and still we are tempted to do both things at once. People also hold conversations with others who are reading or watching TV.

These exchanges are far from what I consider good discussions. Once people sat around the dinner table and talked to each other. They listened to what others had to say, thought about what they’d heard, and contributed something if they thought it would advance the conversation further.

These kinds of conversations didn’t just happen after a meal, either. Sometimes people were invited to a friend’s house just “to visit”—a euphemism for entering into a conversation with someone else. Often people at church would stand around in the foyer or out front and talk, sometimes about the sermon, sometimes about their week.

The key in all these successful discussions is listening. Both or all parties listen to one another. They aren’t planning their next spiel or waiting for the current speaker to take a breath so they can jump in with their thoughts.

One way you can tell if someone is listening is by the questions they ask . . . or don’t ask. In a real conversation, there is give and take spurred by questions asking for amplification or explanation. New ideas might also be sparked, but those are clearly pertinent to what came before.

Listening is such an important skill in interpersonal relationships, so it seems like a serious loss that we no longer understand how to discuss. But even more important is our need to listen to God.

First we need to hear His word. James says clearly that real hearing isn’t hard to detect—it will lead to doing. If we hear God’s command to love our neighbors, we will not continue to ignore or belittle or slander them.

But God has also given us His Holy Spirit who guides us and teaches us and convicts us and comforts us—if we’re listening. Sadly some Christians shy away from communion with the Holy Spirit, thinking such “private communication” is akin to gnosticism. Well, it’s not.

The Holy Spirit lives in us for a reason, and it’s not for Him to act like a silent partner we never consult. Rather, He’s the dynamo, the source of power for our Christian walk. He wants to embolden us, to provide strength when we are weak, to spark our thoughts when we don’t have an idea what to write next (which happens a lot on this blog! 😀 )

Of course, to benefit from communion with the Holy Spirit, we have to listen. Scripture says we are not to quench the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying we aren’t to ignore Him. It’s a great metaphor though because the Holy Spirit made a visual manifestation to the early church as tongues of fire. But those believers realized they could put the fire out.

I’m amazed that God would allow us to ignore Him. When I was teaching, I did what I could to keep my students listening. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t optional. But not with God. He tells us—commands us—not to douse the Holy Spirit and in the command there is the implication that we can in fact do the opposite. We can quench Him. And we do that every time we ignore Him.

What’s frightening is, when we ignore the nudges from the Holy Spirit, it becomes harder and harder to tell when He’s giving us a nudge and when we’re operating from our own emotions.

Lots of times we say God gave us peace about this or that decision, which is well and fine. I’ve said that myself any number of times. But peace is only a byproduct of obeying the Holy Spirit and it’s not a constant.

I have a friend who teaches a Bible study at a women’s shelter. Every day she goes to teach, she is eaten up with anxiety, and yet she goes. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has not given her peace. She prays for it and knows intellectually that God will give her the ability to teach so she doesn’t have to worry, but the feelings have not followed. However, her obedience to go and to teach speaks far more about her willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit than any amount of inner peace.

You might say obedience is good listening.

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