“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” –James 1:19-20
Every time I read it I jump straight to the part about being slow to speak and slow to anger and I silently reprimand myself for not having more self control. Then I vow to be better in the future and completely miss the rest of what this verse has to say.
Most of the people I know would agree that being quick to say all that’s on one’s mind is not necessarily always the wisest course of action. It’s often better to hold back until either we have more information, or in the case of very emotional topics, until things have cooled down and people are level headed. From a religious stance I can definitely affirm this as well. The Bible is pretty clear that a fool vents his anger but a wise person holds back (Proverbs 29:11).
What’s less often mentioned though, what I’m always prone to skip past, is what it means to be quick to listen. James didn’t have to tack that part on. It wasn’t simply a literary flourish there to emphasize the rest of the verse.
James is saying is that for those of us who would call ourselves followers of Christ, listening, really hearing someone out, is an active pursuit. Listening isn’t something that we find ourselves in because we happen to not be talking. It is to be something we are quick to.
Because anger, whether justified or not, simply isn’t capable of bringing about righteousness – the right things of God. Anger may spur us into action and those actions can produce meaningful results but there’s a drastic gap between being right and making a difference. It’s a gap that’s bridged by our understanding. When we actively pursue understanding, it helps us direct that energy wisely.
And so listening is something we pursue
Even if we only took that one idea and tried to apply it to our “day-to-day”s how different would our interactions be?
Race? Religion? Politics? Gender?
Is there a topic on which our conversations wouldn’t be vastly improved if listening was an active pursuit on our part?
I for one wonder what tomorrow would look like if I really made a conscious effort at this.