|“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.” (Proverbs 18:13, NIV)
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20, NIV)
I’ve been guilty of it. Probably all of us have been guilty of it to one extent or another. Allow me to illustrate what I am talking about: You’re having a conversation with someone with whom you disagree. Maybe you are talking with that person about an emotionally-charged subject, such as a subject related to religion or theology or politics or ethical issues. As your opponent in conversation is making her point(s) you impatiently interrupt her in order to make your point(s). Even when you don’t blatantly interrupt her (perhaps under the guise of pretending that you are actually listening to her), you are not really listening carefully to what she has to say. Instead, as she is speaking you are busy thinking about the next point you are going to make, and in the meantime you are anxiously looking for the next pause in conversation when you can jump back in and dominate the conversation (a “conversation” that borders on being a shouting match).
Interruptions such as in the illustration above are very common today. In fact, I believe there is a sense in which one could call our popular culture today a “culture of interruptions.” Talk shows on television and the radio are filled with daily examples of these kinds of interruptions, and even those shows where supposedly “fair and balanced” coverage is given to both sides of controversial issues are characterized by ideological opponents cutting each other off in conversation, all as a matter of course. (Of course, the time pressures of commercial breaks contribute to this regrettable dynamic as well.) People today in this “culture of interruptions” communicate in sound bites, slogans and talking points, and therefore arguments that cannot be communicated in 30 seconds or less are either disregarded or are received with a glazed over look (the “listener” being too lazy to put forth the intellectual effort and self-discipline to follow the argument to its conclusion). In this culture of interruptions, virtues such as good listening skills, politeness, civility and clear, cogent, rational thinking are thrown to the winds.
The Bible says all of this is “folly” and “shame” (Prov. 18:13). Poor listening skills are a sign of folly. Folly is the opposite of wisdom. Therefore, when we display poor listening skills by cutting others off in conversation, we are behaving as fools.
The culture of interruptions teaches us to be quick to speak and slow to listen. But God’s Word commands the opposite: that we be quick to listen and slow to speak (as in the James 1:19-20 passage quoted above). The culture of interruptions excuses rude speech and behavior as normal and expected. Holy Scripture requires that our speech be “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6, NIV). It requires that we who are believers in Christ be prepared to answer “with gentleness and respect” those who ask us for a reason for our Christian hope (1 Pet. 3:15, NIV).
Not only is the culture of interruptions toxic, acerbic, and potentially vitriolic. It is also juvenileand immature. A person who habitually interrupts and who characteristically manifests poor listening skills is not merely rude. Such a person is also manifestly an immature person (at least in the area of listening skills and self-controlled speech). Even (or, should I say,especially) if such a person happens to be a Christian. In the process of sanctification the Holy Spirit works in believers over time to develop godly virtues, thereby progressively conforming the believer into growing Christ-likeness. Those godly virtues (called by St. Paul “the fruit of the Spirit”) include “patience,” “gentleness,” and “self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23, NIV). Applied to the areas of listening skills and self-controlled speech, these aspects of the “fruit of the Spirit” will include an earnest effort to understand what the other person is saying, and avoiding the rudeness of interruptions. Where this is lacking in the life of the believer, there is a lot of growing up in Jesus that has yet to take place.
May God give us the grace to avoid being conformed to the godless and toxic culture of interruptions. May He grant us the grace to mature in our discipleship by developing good listening skills, sanctified speech, and a gentle and respectful demeanor toward others — even others with whom we happen to disagree. In the midst of a “culture of interruptions” which is so often rude, crude, vitriolic and brutish, let us manifest the love of Christ by showing kindness, respect, self-control and gentleness, even loving our enemies (theological and otherwise) who revile us for our good behavior in Christ (Matt. 5:10-11, 43-48; 1 Pet. 3:15-16). And let our motivation in all of this be gratitude for God’s wonderful free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, our exalted Lord and Savior! Amen.