Listening, learning and discovering what to say


Have you ever met someone and immediately thought, “This person is awkwardly, even painfully, intelligent?”

Before he ever spoke a word, this was my impression of the smartest professor I ever studied under. When I first stepped foot into his office, the framed documents on his wall confirmed my gut intuition and served to increase my bias. He had several master’s degrees and at least two doctorates.

To be completely honest, I had zero interest in taking any of his classes. Based on previous experiences with professors that l believed were like him, I was positive his classes would be long, academically arrogant and difficult to comprehend.

I was less than thrilled to learn he was the professor for a weekly, three-hourlong class. That first class with him redefined my understanding of how education, particularly for postsecondary students, could and should function.

Upon entering the classroom, he went to the whiteboard and wrote a statement on the board. He then turned to us, the students, and asked us what we thought about this statement. He listened carefully as we debated back and forth on the truthfulness or inaccuracy of the statement, asking clarifying questions based on our own statements and offering counterpoints when appropriate. He carefully protected the atmosphere in the room, doing all he could to make sure we all were both heard and respected.

Several things amazed me about this encounter. First, he had taken the time to study the issue so carefully that he was able to clearly, concisely and accurately present multiple perspectives. Second, he was so very respectful of the opinions of those in the classroom and made every effort to encourage gracious and respectful dialogue that even the most reserved students were willing to share.

Further, though he was clearly the most qualified and capable of presenting the information, he chose to carefully and actively listen to our ideas and opinions. But what amazed me most was what happened in the middle of one such encounter.

A student offered a dissenting position to a statement he made, based on their own personal experience. Rather than becoming offended and putting them in their place, which they probably deserved, he sat back in his chair and said, “Wow! What an amazing insight. I had never thought about it in that way.”

He then redirected the class period by asking if any of us had similar experience, once again, listening very carefully to our answers. As the class drew to an end, he stood up and thanked us as a class for taking the time to share our perspective with him and for teaching him something new and dismissed us for the day.

In that moment, I gained a different perspective on intelligence. I understood, without a doubt, why this professor was the smartest man I had ever met. Though he was without question the most capable and qualified to teach our class, and he did ultimately do most of the speaking, he was willing to listen. He was willing to learn.

He wasn’t so entrenched in his own position, power or preeminence that he could no longer hear from those whose experience or understanding didn’t agree with his own. Make no mistake, he was the professor and we learned much more from him than he did from us, but he was still learning even as he was teaching.

I’ve intentionally distanced myself from social media in recent weeks. It’s not because I don’t have firm opinions and convictions about the pandemic, politics and the racial tension in our country. I’ve written blog posts and preached messages touching on all of these issues to some degree.

I’m simply struggling with all of the noise. It seems to me that everyone has something to say these days, but so few want to listen. It has led to a lot of one-sided, extremely narrow and inflammatory conversations.

In the book of James, we are told to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”

I’m reminded of my professor, the smartest person I’ve ever met. He was willing to listen and unwilling to become offended and angry. That is why he is the smartest person I know. I want to be more like him.

I struggle at times. I feel things at a very deep and personal level. I want to say things that matter. I want to say things that are worth hearing. I want to correct the wrongs of our world.

Sometimes, however, correcting the wrongs in the world starts with us being willing to listen to the opinions and experiences of others and a willingness to correct the wrongs in our own hearts and minds.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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