The false safety of “listening & learning.”
Your Fat Friend

re “The False Safety …”

As a pastor, I note your observation that “listening and learning” has replaced “thoughts and prayers”. On the one hand, “thoughts and prayers” became a catch-all template for Showing That You Care. As a media relations advisor, I occasionally had to come up with messaging for situations that involved human emotions, and I shied away from using that phrase because it sounded hollow. (As an aside, I used it once, in suggesting messaging to a newly-hired director to whom I reported. She emailed back, saying “Prayer is not part of our corporate culture.” The fact that she chose to hit “reply all” indicated her classiness. An hour later, we got word that one of our vice-presidents was rushed to hospital with an apparent heart attack. His second-in-command shot me an email: “Prayer may not be part of our ‘corporate culture’, but some of us can’t live without it.”)

I digress. I’m sorry that prayer is thought of as a passive, do-nothing response. Properly done, and listening to what the Lord says back, it can be the most effective weapon we have. In the case of interpersonal relations — particularly those involving race or gender — it can help one take a step back and consider the way one’s words and actions are received; in so doing, it reveals what’s really in one’s heart and whether one is doing something right or wrong.

I agree with you that listening and learning can be “safe” — a guise of caring about someone else’s position. The kind of prayer I think of is anything but safe, because it reveals an essential ugliness about oneself and, as a colleague of mine used to put it, “take you to the wood-shed” about the way you’ve behaved or thought. It also shows that there is a way out and an opportunity to turn around and stop acting in that way. I rather wish more people would at least try it.

Thank you for your time … and for your writing.