Stop! Collaborate and listen!

Published 4:05 pm Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Jason Stump

Until Thursday, June 27, I had not watched a presidential debate, or State of The Union Address, since sometime shortly after 9/11. Frankly, they didn’t serve any good purpose for me. I get my news from what I hope to be better places, and I hate to see the poor behavior and lack of decorum from so-called leaders and public servants. 

However, I decided to try again recently. I lasted two minutes. Two minutes before I just couldn’t see any value in adding one more second of it to my life, or the country, and community, I love. 

Email newsletter signup

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do my absolute best not to miss an election. Even when it’s “just” a local election or primary. 

That night reminded me that debates have long ago lost their value. In a good debate, one with a greater cause in everyone’s mind, ideas could be presented orderly. They would be listened to, reflected upon, and thoughtfully countered. If everyone is truly there for a greater cause than simply “winning” a verbal version of a professional wrestling cage match, thoughtful people might actually find common ground, and later they, or others, could collaborate on helpful solutions. 

The wise words of the former rap star, Vanilla Ice, “Stop! Collaborate and Listen” seems like some of the best advice political figures could take these days. Well, we all could benefit from that. 

The evening of the debate, and the next day, my social media feeds were full of people in shock over just how bad it was. Really? You didn’t see this coming? You may think that’s a dig at the two men in that debate. It is. It’s also more than that. It’s a dig at us. I’ve witnessed local elections and meetings in several states. I’ve seen the behavior of adults in policymaking and problem-solving from the parish halls to city halls. It’s sadly — more often than it should be — just like that debate. 

Not long ago, I was in conflict with someone in a church setting — someone I care about very much. I decided to take the time to review an old book on conflict management from seminary. Doing so reminded me that my top two conflict styles are persuasion and collaboration. Both are useful, depending upon the setting, but in this case, both myself and the other were relying initially upon persuasion. It was the wrong choice in this case. Trying to disprove, discount or downgrade the other’s opinion wasn’t the right choice. Thankfully, we never did that to each other’s character, just our positions. Mutually, we decided to switch our approach to collaboration. We actually took the advice of Vanilla Ice. We stopped, paused for a period of time, listened to our own words, and others, and then started from where we found common ground. Truly, it was a loving experience. Sure, we might still disagree on things, but we found those things which are more important than that. We also found value even in our disagreements. 

Many of you are familiar with the parable when Jesus speaks of the seed sower throwing some seeds along the path, the rocks and the thorns, none of which would bear fruit. Still, some seeds did land in the good soil, and they produced “a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.” 

My good people, finding common ground from which we can collaborate is that soil. You may have to dig deep with each other to get there, but we must. We must set the example at the most local and personal levels of our lives and government. Most of our lives, that’s the level of government we will spend the bulk of our time with. Sow those seeds now. We may never eat of their fruit in our lifetime. However, when we finally come through whatever mess we have ourselves in now, perhaps enough of us will have set the example for a new generation of public servants and voters to do better. 

I have hope, and I’m committed to creating more of it in this world. How about you? 

The next time you find yourself in need of some good advice, 

might you consider that of Vanilla Ice?