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Dialogue With the Believer Who Believes Something Else

Let’s say you’ve been on planet Earth awhile—at least 20 years—and you’re basically settled on your beliefs about the life, the universe, and everything. Some of those beliefs may be non-negotiable. You might even believe that your worldview is the one and only truth; others, while they might hold bits of truth here and there, are fundamentally incorrect.

Why on earth would you want to listen to someone who believes something else?

This is no idle question. We’ve all known people who won’t listen. To some degree, we are those people. I once submitted an idea for a convention workshop and was rejected because I wasn’t conservative enough for the sponsor—even though the topic had nothing to do with being conservative or liberal. They just didn’t want to hear me.

OK, so back to the question. Why listen? I can think of three reasons right off the bat. See what you think, and please feel free to add your own.

 1. You want to share the great things about your worldview, and listening gets your foot in the door.

 There’s nothing wrong with sharing your enthusiasm for the beliefs that live close to your heart. But be forewarned: in today’s skeptical culture, listening as pretense to talking will likely get you nowhere. Between political campaigns and wall-to-wall advertising, the speed of the Internet and our national ADD, people have become exquisitely tuned to ulterior motives. They also turn off at the first whiff of anything that sounds like a sales pitch. At the same time, they hunger to be heard. The best way to make an impact on someone in those conditions is to listen: first, last, and sometimes only.

 2. The other person might know something.

Even if your worldview is The Truth, it’s not The Exhaustive Truth: it cannot possibly cover every situation relating to God, the world, the human race, etc. The Bible says nothing directly about genetic engineering; might you learn something—maybe something new and consistent with your worldview—if your dialogue partner is a secular geneticist? If you are a Christian (whose tradition says something about meditation but not a ton), might you gain insights on meditation from a Buddhist, then adapt them to your own faith?

3. You get to practice love.

Love is central to nearly every faith tradition—but you don’t need a faith tradition to see that loving makes us better people. It involves putting ourselves aside, at least in the moment, for the good of the other. This kind of love is best honed when it extends to people who are not like us. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew (5:46-47), “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?”

So there are three reasons for anyone and everyone to take part in dialogue, regardless of convictions. Can you think of others?

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