When I still lived in my parents home, my family knew how to argue. It wasn’t about agitation, or competition… it was just about the discussion. We all knew that it is impossible to agree about everything, and what’s more, that would be dreadfully boring and dull and our brains would all be so small if there was never any challenges to our own way of thinkin! It’s ridiculous to believe that with all of the fruits in the world that everyone would think apples were the best, or that okra is the best vegetable. God wouldn’t have put so many colors and smells and tastes and sights and sounds in the world if we were all supposed to agree that one was the best. We are supposed to see things, and think about things in our own way.
I was accustomed to being a part of a good discussion. My family talked about the farm and school and the weather and politics. We talked about the world, in so far as we knew about it. We talked about weddings and births and funerals, and anything and everything in between. If any one of us had a different thought on the subject, we would just throw it out there on the table to be talked about. If it was worthy, it might get to be tossed and bantered about. If it wasn’t worthy, it would just pass through the air and vanish, or lay and whither a quiet, peaceful death. When we were having family discussions, nobody was allowed to say, “You’re dumb!” or “That was stupid!” My parents and grandparents took respecting other people’s thoughts seriously. Disparaging someone else’s ideas was forbidden, and therefore, we weren’t afraid to speak our minds… even if it was stupid. Being allowed to be heard gave us a sense of obligation about the importance of other people’s time. We didn’t want our time wasted, so we tried very hard never to be silly or stupid or flippant… unless the topic called for it.
I realized as I got older how unusual and difficult it is for some people to listen to and appreciate opinions which differ from their own. “It’s human nature to want to be around people who think like you”, Momma told me. “Unfortunately, it also causes you to get a very narrow idea of the world. I think my Grandfather Jeremiah must have lived his life wearin horse blinders. He saw everything as right or wrong. If you agreed with him then you were with him, and if you disagreed then you were against him. Unfortunately there are a lot of people like that…but it isn’t that simple. We know that nobody is always right. Good people do the wrong thing sometimes, and bad people can do the right thing. Nothin is all good and nothin is all bad. Nobody is all right and nobody is all wrong. You have to be discerning, Katie. Listen with your heart and your mind. Don’t be a sponge that soaks up everything that you hear. Take in what is good, and toss out what isn’t… but just know all the while that what you keep as your truth somebody else might have rejected, and what you toss away as false somebody else will take up. A lot of big wars and small wars have started because of somebody thinkin one way is the only way that is right.
“Folks like to be around what they know. They like to hear what they already agree with and believe. It’s like a confirmation of their rightness.” My momma wanted us all to know that communication is the key to gettin along. “The trick is to listen to everybody…even to things that you don’t believe. It might sound like a waste of your time, but how else are you gonna understand what other people think if you don’t take the time to listen to their ideas too. You don’t have to be persuaded by them or see things their way. You might just find that even if you don’t agree, that at least you can see why they think that way. But don‘t try to change people. If they are willin to listen to you, then make your case. If they change their mind on their own then you have been successfully persuasive… or they may have been sittin on the fence anyway just needin a little push.
“People who are dug down deep in a trench of their beliefs aren’t likely to wave a white flag and surrender to your way of thinkin. If you come across the battlefield to talk it out, they are likely to see your approach as an aggressive act of the enemy…they already think that you speak a foreign language after all. If you try to approach a person dug deep, they may just try to shoot you down before you even get a chance to explain your intentions! So if you feel the need to state your case to somebody, but you feel pretty sure they aren’t even gonna consider what you are sayin, just be ready to take cover and retreat. All you can do is hope that you will come across other people in life who are willin to listen to you. And of course you should be willin to listen too. And if who you are with is always tellin you how it is and how it should be and never any listenin, it may be that you need to move on to a more peaceful and welcoming land.”
Momma had learned from Granddaddy how to preach a pretty good sermon.
Granddaddy told me, “I think that there are a whole lot more people who are ignorant than there are people who are stupid. It’s not that people can’t use their brains to learn, it’s just that people don’t like to have to use their brains. They like for other people to do the work… to think it all through for them and then put it in a nice tidy little box and make it all pretty and wrap it with a bow. People don’t like to have to sift through a lot of trash to try to find the treasure. They would rather have somebody else tell them what’s treasure. Problem with that is that some treasure get’s over looked or some trash gets kept. It’s all a person’s own opinion what is valuable after all…‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!’ And what seems like trash or treasure can change for each of us too dependin on our need at any given time. Same with a Bible scripture. Sometimes I’ll just read on past somethin that doesn’t mean much of anything to me, and then one day it will just pop out at me! And I’ll say ‘ Ahhh’ so that’s what that means… or ‘Yes, that is just what I needed to hear.’”
I nodded my head, because I understood that some things are important to me, but not to somebody else… and even things that are important to me can and do change.
Granddaddy went on, “And then there are some people who just can’t stand to be wrong. They can be given proof about somethin until the cows come home, but they are so stubborn and set in their ways that there is no makin them change their mind. Katie, if you find that you are wrong, I give you permission to change your mind. In fact, if you know that you have been wrong, but don’t do anything to make it right, then I will have mistaken who you are. And I know you.”
Granddaddy did know me, in some ways he knew me even better than I knew myself.
Granddaddy wasn’t known for being a big talker. He didn’t make small talk. When he had somethin to say, it was usually of pretty good length and about somethin substantial. And when he was done sayin his peace, he might go the rest of the day without sayin another word. Yes, his talkin would ebb and flow without notice… but he was very consistent and predictable in one way. He was a hard worker. All day, every day except Sunday.