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I’ve recently discovered the secret to getting rid of internal turmoil and stress – I’ve stopped listening to news talk radio and political talking heads shows on TV.
Instead, I listen to my iPod – music and podcasts of sermons and science, food and history. It’s amazing how my inner agitation and anxiety have gone way down, and I haven’t missed a thing. I still know what’s going on in the world – I do work for a newspaper – without having to endure all the yelling.
Recently, I listened to a sermon from Joel Hunter, a pastor in Orlando, about conflict resolution. He said the most common way people try to solve problems with others is to intensify their own line of argument. If that doesn’t work, they pump up the volume.
He told a story about a synagogue in Eastern Europe where, as the Shema (“Hear O Israel, the Lord is one…”) was recited each week, half the congregation stood with hands raised and the other half remained seated.
This might not have been a problem except each half insisted that their way was the synagogue’s tradition and, therefore, the right way. So, every week at the Shema’s reading the standers stood and yelled at the sitters to stand up and the sitters sat and yelled at the standers to sit down.
Finally, the rabbi got fed up and took a stander and a sitter to see one of the founders of the synagogue, a 98-year-old man in another town, to find out once and for all what the real tradition was.
After the rabbi explained the situation, the old man said, “Standing is not our tradition.”
But just as the sitter was about to do the ha-ha gloating dance, the old man said, “Sitting’s not our tradition either.”
Frustrated, the rabbi said, “We’ve got to solve this! Every week everyone’s yelling at each other.”
The old man cried out, “Yelling – that’s our tradition!”
Hunter said yelling has become the tradition in our culture. That’s why I don’t watch the talking heads shows or listen to news talk radio anymore. Everyone’s yelling and nobody’s listening. No conflict is resolved. People just dig in their heels and shout their agendas over one another, not even taking turns.
Sadly, that’s not restricted to just politics. It’s in our churches and in our families. It’s the “tradition” among the body of Christ. If you want to hear angry speech, just put a Calvinist together with a conservative fundamentalist Baptist and ask them to talk about any number of things – Bible translations, mode of baptism, eternal security.
Some of the nastiest emails and letters I get are from other Christians who only want to shout their pet theological point of contention that might differ from mine.
Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be right. But as Dr. Phil says, “Do you want to be right or do you want a relationship?”
When I was 15 or so as my dad and I were making pizza we started arguing about whether the cheese goes on before the meat or the meat before the cheese. I don’t remember my position on the subject, but I do remember vividly our argument escalating into a one-way yelling match with me doing all the yelling while my dad continued making pizza. I give him props for his self-control. He could’ve — should’ve — smacked me.
I remember my fury and the absolute conviction that I. Was. Right. I was right! I don’t remember if my dad sent me to my room or if I stormed off on my own, just that I spent the rest of the night crying on my bed, hungry.
How pathetic, right? What’s even more pathetic, in the midst of my tantrum I had a gut feeling that I was wrong, but my pride wouldn’t let me back down. I just yelled louder.
“Love,” the Bible says, “doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others … puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back but keeps going to the end” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, The Message).
It’s not about winning; it’s about loving, and love doesn’t yell or insist on its own way. It’s about soft answers turning away wrath, humility and thinking more of others and less of yourself.
It’s about strengthening relationships, not strengthening the rhetoric or defending the argument.
With God’s help, may that be our tradition.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via e-mail at email@example.com.