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“Listening Is Hard Work :

Wednesday September 21, 2022

Organization: Alliance for Christian Media
Denomination: n/a

“To be heard is to be healed,” according to the Rev. Susan Sparks. A great many of our problems and national wounds could be healed, if we would listen to one another.

No one wins nor do we make progress when we shout at each other or turn a deaf ear to a proposal without considering its possible merits. This is no easy solution. Listening is hard work even under the best of circumstances. One must make a conscious effort to actively listen and not interrupt.

Interrupting is an act of war. It shouts that what I have to say is more important than what you have to say. We may feel that way, but if progress is to be made we must be willing to listen. That does not giving the other person permission to run on forever. We are talking about give and take in a civil conversation. Bishop Sally Dyck of the United Methodist Church has suggested Holy Conferencing. The idea is that the person holding a plastic dove has permission to talk without interruption. The dove is then passed to someone on the opposite side of the issue.

Calling each other names or pinning labels on each other will make the situation worse. A sure way to block real communication is to tell me that the problem is my fault. That may be true, but it will not move the conservation forward. Instead try, “Here is a way that could help us solve our impasse.”

If I treat you with respect and you treat me with respect, we are well on our way to creating an environment in which it is possible to make progress. I am not suggesting that it is necessary for any of us to give up our convictions or principles. I am suggesting that we sincerely take the time to listen to each other.

There are so many issues on which we disagree, but there are so many more issues on which we agree or have some levels of agreement. Start with the basics. I love this country and I know that you do as well. I am in favor of national health insurance for all of our citizens. Help me understand why you are not. I favor finding a way to citizenship for the so called Dreamers. Tell me why you are not. At this point you are tempted to call me a liberal, but that would not move us forward nor would it solve our problem.

Perhaps I should rephrase my statement. How could we improve accessibility to health care for all Americans? Are there some steps we could take that would lead to citizenship for the so-called Dreamers?

I have dinner every week with a group that I have been eating with for at least 35 years. We celebrate birthdays and holidays. We have attended weddings and funerals in each other’s family. All of the others in the group are members of a different political party from me and yet we have found a way to maintain our friendships. It has not always been easy, but we are dedicated to one another.

Honest conversation is rare because it is so difficult. It requires effort and a willingness to engage. It is far easier to ignore you, discount you or call you names. That requires no thought at all, but I am the loser. Our country, our civic organization or our church is the loser. As usual the Scriptures say it best: “Come now, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)


Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, SC. He is the founder of Say Something Nice Day and Say Something Nice Sunday on the first Sunday in June. He blogs at

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Everyone Needs Encouragement –

Wednesday August 17, 2022

Organization: Alliance for Christian Media
Denomination: n/a

“Everyone needs encouragement.” My friend, Dr. Monty Knight, said as we rode to lunch. Dr. Arthur Caliandro, late pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, said, “Be kinder than you think it necessary to be. The other person needs it more than you know.” The Bible says, “Encourage one another and build each other up just as in fact you are doing” 1Thessalonians 5: 11. (NIV)

Our families, friends and neighbors are hurting. They are struggling. After two years of the Coved virus, isolation, the difficulty of obtaining supplies, school and drive-by shootings and now inflation have converged to take the fight out of so many.

The divisive political climate has had a negative effect on our trust in some of our most cherished institutions. The Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe vs. Wade has only added fuel to the fire. We must find a way to lift each other up.

Decades ago when I was a senior in high school, I was walking home from school. A prominent woman in our small town stopped her car beside me and said, “I like your poem in the school paper today.” Here was encouragement from an unexpected source. Obviously it had an important influence on my life because I remember it all these years later. She could have driven on by, but she didn’t. She stopped and encouraged a young boy.

We never know how far our words will go or the power they carry. For many years I wrote a weekly blog, “Thankful Thursday.” Each week I featured a person for whom I was grateful and encouraged others to thank those who are important to her or him. I could not have predicted the impact. Over and over again the subject of one of those blogs contacted me to say, “How could you have known how badly I needed your words of encouragement?”

Just this morning a sales associate of a major company across the country from me said. “I have had a good day. I haven’t encountered a rude or mean customer all morning.” How sad when we remember the days when someone was not mean or rude to us. Sixty years ago, a priest told my friend that her prayer of confession was unacceptable because, “You forgot the right way to end your prayer.” It was years before she returned to the confessional booth.

Closer to home, my late wife was discouraged from an art career by a father who said, “That’s a hobby not a profession.” She longed for words of encouragement from the minister father she idolized, but they never came. Consequently she would not tell you about her paintings unless you knew to ask. She was the most talented person I have known. I was reminded of her story this week’ There is an art show in my building. All the artists are senior citizens. A retired dentist said to me, “I never told anyone about my paintings. I thought I was not good enough. It is something I did after I got home from the office at night.” His work is magnificent.

In 2002 Marlo Thomas released a wonderful book, The Right Word at the Right Time, in which she recounts the stories of 101 people who were encouraged or discouraged by the words spoken to them. Muhammad Ali was told by his elementary school teacher, “You ain’t never gonna be nuthin’.” What a terrible thing to say to a child.

My second wife grew up under the most horrific circumstances with constant discouragement from her parents. Her seventh grade teacher, in contrast to the one Ali had, took notice of her work and determination. One day she announced to the class, “Carol is going to be a teacher.” That is all the encouragement Carol needed. She retired after 28 years as a very successful teacher. She had three completely new computer labs during her career. She is the only person I know who received more money in a grant than she requested. Scores of young people have a better chance of success because a 7th grade teacher encouraged Carol to become a teacher.

The scriptures are right. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
– Proverbs 25: 11-13.

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Our lives are made up of a series of ever changing relationships. Some are long term as was my relationship with my boyhood friend, Ansel McGill. His death brought it to a close as it did my relationships with my two wonderful wives, Liz and Carol. I thought that Liz and I would grow old together and hopefully die a simultaneous death, but such was not in the cards. I thought that Carol would outlive me, but Alzheimer’s disease put an end to that thought.

As we grow older our relationships become more important. Having friends in different age groups helps us maintain a balance between what has been and what is yet to be.  We need to nourish and grow our friendships. They are the secret to a happy life. We should associate with those who value our company and avoid those who put us down or make us feel less than.  We need to laugh more and worry less. Since laughter is the best medicine we should hang out with those who make us laugh.

I belong to a Monday lunch bunch composed of old friends and new ones that nourishes my soul.  Some days the conversations are deep and thought provoking other times not so much. The gatherings are always fun. My Wednesday supper group has been going for 35 years. We have shared so many joys and sorrows in our lives.  I am a part of a wonderful Sunday school class that is supportive and challenging. I take my turn leading the group. None of the groups have members who overlap. I also belong to a writer’s group that inspires me. During the pandemic this group has met on zoom.  This might be too much for some, but try to be a part of at least one group. If there is not one, start one.

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On Speaking and Keeping Silent – Goodfaithmedia

The conversation was flowing as usual at a dinner with friends when suddenly my friend grew very angry. I did not see this outburst coming.

He asked a question about the recent national election, which I responded to in a very polite manner. He accused me of a lack of sensitivity to his question and of having a preformed answer that included my biases.

Such is the nature of the public square today. The slightest misstep leads to a tirade of language that lacks any relationship to civility. If your response is not what the person expects to hear, then the attack is on.

I apologized for any misunderstanding; however, we spent the remainder of the evening in a very uneasy silence.

Our friendship stretches for more than 30 years and, yes, I am aware of most of his convictions. Until this point, we have been able to have meaningful rational discussions on a wide variety of issues.

Somehow the current climate has put an end to rational discussions. Either you agree or you disagree. If you disagree, then you are now an enemy.

Where did civility go?

An American Airlines flight from Miami to London loaded with passengers was forced to return to Miami after traveling more than 500 miles because a passenger became combative over wearing a mask. She clearly knew the rules before boarding the plane.

Rioters stormed our nation’s capital and shredded 200 years of history of peaceably passing power from one administration to another. They were responding to a lie that had been repeated over and over again.

Where has reason gone?

Many of us feel helpless to do anything, but there is something that we can all do, if we are willing to make the effort.

A song that became popular in the late 1950s and ’60s carries the answer, “Let there Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me.” The song was first introduced to youth groups and then its popularity spread around the world.

Peacemaking isn’t passivity, and it doesn’t mean that we keep silent in the face of injustice, oppression and falsehood. Jesus made it clear that the peaceable kingdom he envisioned would not come easily or without unrest (Matthew 10), and the prophet Jeremiah condemned those who proclaimed peace when there was no peace (6:14).

So, there are times to speak out and times to keep silent, as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us (3:7). Knowing the difference isn’t easy, and each of us must make that decision on a case-by-case basis.

Upon further reflection, I concluded that I should not have answered my friend’s question. I should have remained silent. AA puts it even more directly, “You don’t have to go to every fight to which you are invited.”

Learning to let it go is very hard. I had a choice, and I made the wrong one. I should have just listened.

Perhaps if I had listened longer or more intently, I would have heard his frustration. I would have learned that he was making a statement not asking a question. Perhaps he just wanted someone to listen.

Listening is the hardest communication skill to learn. In 1995, I published Twelve Keys to Improved Communication. The first of those keys is still the most important, “Stop talking.”

We never learn anything when we are talking. Just because we have stopped talking doesn’t mean that we are listening. So many of us use times of silence to craft our response. That is not listening.

I also developed a pledge to accompany those keys:

“I will listen to you without interruption for at least two minutes. I will look at you while you are talking and not engage in any other activity. When I do respond to you, I will respond appropriately to what you said. I will not pin a label on you or call you names. I will not raise my voice or use profanity. I will keep my remarks centered in the present and not dredge up the past. I will treat you with the same respect that I demand for myself.”

Most of us find it hard to listen for two minutes without being distracted. We’re not alone, as people have found it hard to listen for centuries.

Most of us have hot buttons that, when pushed, cause us to stop listening and get ready to fight. With work, we can learn to recognize our hot buttons and strive to overcome them.

The one thing we can all do is to make sure that we do not contribute to the dysfunction.

The song writers, Jill Jackson-Miller and Sly Miller, point the way: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

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