Several months ago, I cleaned out my personal library. Our son was on his way and there was room for my books or him – not both. As much as I love books, I love my son more. Working through all the titles on my shelves I realized something. All of these books were written by people that I agree with.
This bothered me.
This bothered me because I know that small streams are made of small springs. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, puts it another way. He says,
When you listen and read one thinker, you become a clone… two thinkers, you become confused… ten thinkers, you’ll begin developing your own voice… two or three hundred thinkers, you become wise and develop your voice.
It’s easy for all of us to read those we know we will agree with. It’s comfortable. But, is that really beneficial? It may feel like learning, but as Keller says, you may just be a clone. At best you’re confused. The reason I was so disturbed by the lack of diversity in my library was because I knew that none of these books would challenge my assumptions or convictions. This wall of texts became a wall against challengers. I think that is foolish.
You read that right – foolish.
Seth Godin helped to popularize the term “Tribes” to refer to our circles of influence. In my own I have found that we’re all reading the same books, quoting the same people, recycling the same ideas, and patting each other on the back. But, is it really helping us? The reason it bothered me so much when I worked through my library is that the ease and familiarity with ideas wasn’t helping me. I had the literary equivalent of participation ribbons.
I thought of four reasons to read people I disagree with:
1. It will force me to examine the reasons I believe what I do.
As important as it is to know what I believe, I’m convinced it’s equally important to know why. This applies to far more than faith. It applies to every area of life. The reason we don’t work as hard to discover why is because it is harder and takes far more work. It can also be scary to have our assumptions challenged. But, in the end, it will make you a kinder, more informed person.
That’s worth it to me.
2. The willingness to be challenged (and possibly proven wrong!) will keep me humble.
Avoiding any whiff of controversy is comfortable and easy. But, without a challenge it is easy to become arrogant and abrasive. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks those qualities are virtuous. The willingness to be challenged or proven wrong is good for me.
3. It will teach me to engage in respectful and meaningful dialogue – even with those who think I am wrong!
Dr. Russell Moore likes to call this convictional kindness. That’s a good way to describe it. Certainty does not have to produce XXXXXXX. Instead you can affirm the value and dignity of the other person while still disagreeing with them. Isn’t that what we all want?
4. It reminds me that even those I think are wrong still have something to teach me.
Have you ever known someone who was convinced they were right about everything? Those people are hard to be around. They will use all kinds of labels (“not a team player”, “insubordinate”, “stupid”) to beat you over the head until you confess their intelligence. Balaam the prophet (Numbers 22) was like that. Because his donkey didn’t blindly follow his directions he continued to verbally and physically assault the poor animal. It’s not until God allows the donkey to speak and Balaam almost has his head cut off by an angel that he realizes he is the bullheaded jackass in the story.
So, for your next read, why not try listening to someone different; someone you don’t agree with?