By Peggy Hahn
How many times have you thought to yourself, “If they would only see this the way I do?” or felt the frustration of “Why can’t they see this my way?” I know my life would be a lot easier if everyone responded to a situation the way I do or had the same opinion on a tense issue as I do—because, like most people, not only do I like my way best, but I am more likely to think I am right than to agree with an alternative option.
We all (this is a cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-socioeconomic “all”) see things from a different point of view (POV) and there is no getting around it. At some level we can celebrate this diversity of opinion, but in day-to-day life it is more of a annoyance than a joy—would you agree?
I have had the privilege of doing intentional listening in the city of New Orleans for past four years thanks to my role in the ELCA Youth Gathering which has opened my eyes to the reality of how our POV shapes our behavior, our decisions, our capacity to grow and our family life. In order to develop quality, meaningful service projects for 36,000 people, we spent 2008-09 listening to local organizations about their hopes and dreams. Last month we started this journey again for the 2012 Youth Gathering and, I have to tell you, the stories we heard were very different.
Think about this: Had we gone into New Orleans assuming we knew what was going on and what people needed, we would have NEVER actually made a difference with the time and money invested by our church. However, because we took the listening process seriously, hearing all the different points of view, we were able to do ministry that has had a lasting impact. Had we assumed that the needs in the city were exactly the same (only two years later, after-all) for this next Gathering, we would have missed the truth.
A lot has changed. We need to focus differently, think differently about how we engage and what we do as a church. In only two years this is a different game. And the best part? On this second round we are building upon relationships. Not only are doors open to us (we are not trying to prove our worth), but people are ready to talk to us with honesty and integrity… in a way that took a year to develop on the first round. Wow! Caring about the various perspectives has built trust and made a way for strong partnership!
If I had to put my finger on one single point of growth I have had in the last four years it is exactly this:
When I can look at life through your point of view, I can understand you better, and my own POV is expanded.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Ha! It’s always the easy things that trip us up. Take the community around your church, for an example. Think about the angles of vision in just that area. Your view is just that—your view. What if you took the time to see your church and more importantly, your neighborhood, like others see it? You will be amazed at what you miss. Our own opinions and angles give us unexpected blind spots. We make judgments without information to back them up, because of a few personal experiences that may be very old. Things around us change and we miss that because we are focused on one view.
Lately I have been working with congregations to open their POV. My workshop at the synod assembly will practice some of this. I have created a handout in a pdf format to help you start walking through your community with new ears—to listen and learn and THEN draw conclusions. We can walk out our front door with open eyes, ears and hearts. God is calling us into the community around our church—a community we need to get to know better.
I admit my own POV has changed a lot from listening in New Orleans. I can’t help but think about things through the lens of my new partners in the city rather than only through my church eyes. There is a lot I was missing. I can’t say this larger view is always a better view—sometimes the truth is pretty painful. I can say that I still have a lot to learn and that the journey has turned into my faith story—this is really as much as my working in the city as it is God working in me. I would hate for you to miss this opportunity to see what God has in store for you.