“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinion,” – Proverbs 18:2
Bloggers sometimes get a bad rap for being “arrogant” or “close-minded.” If not either of those, we’re then accused of being lazy – contributing nothing more to society than our own loud opinions. I’m not attempting to deny these accusations because I know there is truth to them. I’ve been lazy, opinionated (I am now), and maybe even close-minded. And that’s exactly the problem I wish to discuss.
As I’m sure mostly everyone knows, social media platforms often become breeding grounds for quarrels. Be it politics, religion, sports, or really anything else, someone somewhere on the web is concocting a Facebook comment, a tweet, or, if they’re really ambitious, an entire blog post about how much they “know” about a particular topic and how stupid anyone would have to be if they didn’t agree with their logic. I know these things happen because I’ve done them. Where these types of posts err, though, isn’t necessarily within their “false” information; it’s within their approach.
Tone of voice, as most social media users know, is exceedingly difficult to convey via text. What you might mean as a sarcastic joke someone else interprets as being mean-spirited and serious. Next thing you know, they’ve un-friended you or blocked you from their Twitter feed without you knowing why. Albeit passive-aggressive, it happens. But that’s a topic for another time. The point I’m trying to make today is how a “know-it-all” attitude going into these public forums is the worst attitude to have.
Again, I say this fully knowing I’ve made many mistakes of being the know-it-all. If anyone knows the Cushman family, you’ll know that we like to argue and we like to be right (who doesn’t?). This is no excuse; it’s just something I have to work on in order to be a more Christ-like person. What does it take, though? What can I do to help alter my know-it-all tendencies?
In the months following my graduation from U of O, I was often asked who my favorite professors were. What I’ve been thinking about lately is why these particular professors (Falk, Sultzbach, and Lima – in that order) were my favorites. Every professor I’ve had has been knowledgeable (they wouldn’t be professors if they weren’t) and most were passionate about what they taught. But these particular professors were something more. In their lectures and discussions, they displayed something that not all professors do: humility.
Infrequent though the moments were, my favorite professors weren’t afraid to admit that they didn’t know something. In fact, they were delighted when someone suggested something they hadn’t quite heard and instead of refuting each challenging opinion, they invited the rest of the class to weigh in. It was in those moments when I could see how these professors got to the places they are now: They had the habit of learning with their students rather than strictly teaching to them.
As the Proverbs say, the “fool” isn’t the one who admits he doesn’t know or understand something; it’s the one who delights in hearing himself talk. Verse 13 of the same chapter has this exact idea; “He who answers before listening – that is his folly and shame.” Verse 17 is like it; “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.” Or as James puts it, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak,” (1:19).
Seeking understanding, then, doesn’t mean merely doing a fact check on Google. It means reading several different opinions on something, asking questions wherever they’re needed, and sifting through it all before developing one’s own thoughts on a topic. Thinking back over the most recent political season, I wish I had done more of this. Thinking ahead to this fall when I might be once again in school, I hope to have the habit of my favorite professors; the habit of setting aside whatever personal investments I might have in a particular topic to gain understanding. If I like my opinion because it sounds nice or because people admire me for it, then I’m no different than the fool discussed in Proverbs 18.
Jesus says that a student will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). If the teacher does nothing but air his own opinion, the student will do nothing but air his own opinion. However, if the teacher recognizes they don’t have everything figured out and therefore has the habit of learning while in the act of teaching, then their students will be efficient learners – listening before speaking, admitting their thoughts aren’t perfect or complete, and surrendering their know-it-all tendencies.
What kind of student are you? Are you quick to put in your two cents or wait to hear the two cents of others? Admitting we’re wrong or that we don’t know isn’t always fun, but the reward of understanding is worth more than our two cents. As I talked about a few weeks ago, if we’re seeking to be more efficient in ministering to others, then we’d be wise to learn with those whom we teach.