Concerning the First Presidential “Debate” of 2020: Speaking without Listening

The Debate between President Trump and Joe Biden

Listening to the Speaker without Interrupting Him or Her

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV).

When two persons are communicating, one person should be be ready and willing to listen while the other speaks, not interrupting him or her. After all, how can an understanding of the speaker be reached, when he or she is constantly being interrupted? First, then, listen to the speaker with the intention of understanding him or her. 

Replying without Inflammatory, Personal Attacks of the Person’s Character

A person should be “slow to speak.” The reason is that it often takes time to understand what it being said, to process it mentally, and to select the right words to reply to the speaker. Then — and only then — after an understanding has been reached, the person may respond the speaker. Speak the truth, but speak it “in love” (Ephesians 4:15), for it is not enough for a person to know what to say; he or she must also know how to say it. In other words, how a person responds to the speaker, the manner of the reply, may adversely affect the communication process itself. 

“Communication Breakdown”

James, the sacred author, uses the example of an angry reply. However, the how or manner of communication may also apply to insults or name-calling, ad hominem attacks, “assassinating” a person’s character, often resulting in an argument which spirals out of control. When that happens, two persons are talking at, not to, each other. Such a “heated” exchange between them is also indicative of a lack of respect for each other, with each reducing the other to an “it,” a thing or object to be manipulated or abused for one’s own advantage, political or otherwise.

Therefore, in two respects, it takes wisdom, which is developed by experience, to communicate effectively. First, there must be a willingness to listen to the speaker or, to paraphrase Gabriel Marcel, to receive another person’s words into oneself. Second, a person’s mind must carefully choose the right words to reply to the speaker, so that (agree or disagree with each other) an understanding exists between both persons.

 

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