Let’s talk to — not about — each other

Published 9:30 pm Friday, September 29, 2017

By Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr.

For many men and some ladies, the drama of a good professional sports contest provides an outlet, a way to relax. It’s fun to pull for your favorite teams. We enjoy the suspense of high-level games and the artistry of high-level athletes.

One thing most people do not enjoy is the intertwining of sports and politics. We don’t watch sports because we want to be treated to more discussions of politics. In fact, many of us want to watch a game because we are sick of politics!

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Therefore, it is no surprise that sports networks that have chosen to fuse sports and politics are suffering. If people want to watch politics, well, there are plenty of 24-hour networks that do nothing but talk about politics, ad nauseam.

Generally, when we settle in to watch a game, politics are about the last thing we want to discuss.

So when former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem as a way of saying our country has a problem with race relations, it was distasteful to many people. They perceived him as disrespecting the flag and the military. A few other players joined him in kneeling.

Whenever we have issues, be they race-related or otherwise, we need to sit down and discuss them as rational, reasonable adults. Only then can we get anywhere.

Kneeling during the national anthem — creating the perception of disrespecting the flag and the military — actually makes it harder to talk about the very issues these players are concerned about. It’s hard to see how kneeling during the national anthem gets us anywhere. It just gets a lot of people mad.

At any rate, the controversy seemed to be dying down, until the president chose to toss a match into the gasoline by tweeting about these players and referring to them with gross vulgarity during a speech.

This behavior is unbecoming of a President and a leader. The mark of a good leader is not how many fights the leader can pick with people, but how many people the leader can bring together. This is especially the case with the president of a nation as big and as diverse as ours.

The President should be looking for ways to heal and unify, not divide and sow discord.

In a way, both the players and the president are making the same mistake. They are not sitting down and talking about the issues with one another.

Kneeling during the anthem won’t solve those issues. Tweeting about them won’t solve them. Making speeches at rallies won’t solve them.

It takes the hard work of sitting face to face with other people, listening to one another, and seeking to understand one another.

Stephen Covey, in his landmark book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” put it this way: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I’ll bet if both the players and the president actually sat down and practiced this principle, we could get somewhere.

That’s a lot more effective than talking about each other, or talking around each other. Come together and talk with each other.

“…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Dr. Thurman R. Hayes is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Suffolk. Follow him on Twitter at @ThurmanHayesJr.