Hope for Living: Listening, reflection produce more meaningful discussion

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Guard your steps as you go to the house of God. Draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.

—Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

By Russel Jarvis

The writer of Ecclesiastes invites us into his search for the meaning of life. He lives a life of privilege and power yet is often perplexed.

So much of what he observes does not make sense to him. Goodness is seldom rewarded as it should be. Those who have power too often use it to oppress others and preserve their positions.

He watches human and animal die and go to the grave. He is religious and believes in God, yet he is skeptical about a lot that is asserted about the Divine.

His questions promote reflection rather than provide answers that end discussions. By the end of the book he calls his readers to a posture of humble listening and learning: “When all has been heard, fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).

This is timely counsel considering what often happens today.

“Freedom of religion” is cherished as a fundamental human right. This means that the societal playing field is, at its best, meant to be level. No person or group is permitted to use its economic or political status to compel conformity to its understanding of the meaning of life. No one can rightfully claim a corner on religious belief or practice.

But since faith is a heart-felt business, what is intended to open up discussion can lead some to claim a corner where discussion dissolves into debate, ideas clash rather than are considered, and legitimate protests turn into riots.

After the dust settles, some regretfully apologize for rash and careless behavior, while others double down in their trenches. This is an ancient and persistent human problem as Ecclesiastes warns: “For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God” (5:7).

Anxious arguments accomplish awful outcomes.

Considerate communication creates climates of collaboration.

A few years ago, I was a member of professional organization that, while not faith-based, provides valuable interpersonal connections and conducts an incredible amount of benevolent works around the globe. One of its values is good, clear and uplifting communication in business and in life.

While a member, I learned four ways to test something I was about to say or write:

1. Is it the truth?

2. Is it fair to all concerned?

3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

These helpful guidelines work best when they are sunk deep in the knowledge that “God is in heaven and you are on the earth. Let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

Russel Jarvis has lived in Hancock County since 1989 and has served as the lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital since August 2003. This weekly column is written by local clergy members. Send comments to [email protected].