Posts Tagged lies

The critical importance of listening evaluatively – The Christian Citizen

Rev. John Zehring

May 27, 2021

When I taught public speaking at a university as an adjunct professor, each student was required to deliver different types of speeches. They started with informational speeches, moved to special occasion speeches, and then were required to deliver a persuasive speech.

As an experiment, I made the students an offer (they had to connect with me beforehand to prearrange for this plot): I would increase their grade by one level if they delivered a persuasive speech so compelling that no classmate detected that the position for which they advocated was the opposite of what they personally believed. For example, a student who held that nuclear power plants are poisonous and should be replaced with alternative energy production would attempt to convince her listeners that we should loosen regulation and increase the number of nuclear energy plants. A number took up the challenge, and many succeeded at persuading their listeners into accepting the position opposite of their real belief. This raised another challenge for listeners: how do we know what to believe? How do we learn to listen evaluatively?

Consider the information wars of the past few years and how critically important it is for you and me to grow in our ability to listen evaluatively. The past four years seem to have sprung forth with fountains of misinformation, bent truths, lies, and a distortion of the facts. Some would say the former President of the United States himself generated lies and half-truths whenever his lips moved, along with his ever-changing press secretaries, his lawyers, senators like Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson, representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene, governors like Ron DeSantis, and, of course, Fox News. Others would impugn the credibility of President Biden, Vice President Harris, senators like Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, representatives like Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and, of course, The Rachel Maddow Show. Who to believe?

Thinking evaluatively applies as well to our faith and religious leaders. Go to church on one side of the street and you’ll learn that the Pope will not allow priests to bless same-sex unions, because those unions are “illicit,” and hear those proclaiming the opinion that God “cannot bless sin.” Walk across the street to worship at a church with a rainbow flag flying proudly to welcome all – no exceptions – to be a guest at the Lord’s table. The pastor themself might be lesbian or gay. One theology views Jesus standing at the door with arms folded – including some, excluding others. The other views Jesus standing at an open door with arms outstretched and palms up, offering an extravagant welcome to all. All. No exceptions. Who to believe?

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “The function of education… is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” You and I are needed, perhaps more than any time in our memory, to become advocates for, champions of, teachers of, and practitioners of critical thinking and evaluative listening.

The essence of critical thinking centers not on answering questions but on questioning answers:  probing, analyzing, and evaluating. Thinking critically is not the same thing as criticism. It means not simply accepting information at face value in a non-evaluating way. It means questioning the source’s motives, agenda, purpose, slant, or bias. Listening evaluatively acknowledges that we all have a bias – you, me, and even the writers of the gospels and the epistles. It asks what does the speaker or writer have to gain from you accepting their data? Whose interest do they have at heart?

Critical thinking means considering other sources. If you go sailing and see a water tank, you might guess where you are. If you see both a tank and a steeple, you can triangulate and know your location with precision. Thinking evaluatively encourages you to check a second or third source to help you take your bearings with greater accuracy.

How do we know who to believe? Whether a student in a public speaking class, a worshipper wondering about the message from the pulpit, a potential customer weighing a sales pitch, or a citizen considering the truthfulness of a politician speaking on your favored news channel, how can you listen evaluatively and critically to weigh the evidence? With an explosion of information sources bombarding us with data, it becomes indispensable for thinking people to listen evaluatively and to think critically.

Listening evaluatively is the mark of a thinking mind. After the wars of disinformation which we experienced in the past half decade, we must rethink how we listen and how we think. I crave evaluative listening skills for my grandchildren, for my neighbors and friends, for all who sit in the pews, for all who vote, and for all who watch, read, or listen to the news. But I cannot wish it for another until I engage in it myself. So, may I practice what I preach, and may all of us desire to grow in our skills as people who think critically and listen evaluatively.

Critical thinking means holding a healthy skepticism about surveys, polls, and statistics, realizing how data can be manipulated or taken out of context. For example, you can observe a man with one foot in the oven, the other in the refrigerator and assume that statistically he is comfortable. A survey or poll could be found to support almost any position.

Critical thinking looks for evidence. The Scottish philosopher David Hume noted that “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” Critical thinking is ready to change its mind if the evidence changes.

Critical thinking does not rest upon what it is told. Galileo was excommunicated for challenging the Church’s view that the sun, planets and stars revolved around the earth, but he was correct and they were not.

Critical thinking, like a detective, looks for what is not said or is not there. In one of Sherlock Holmes’ greatest cases – Silver Blaze – he solved the case when he realized that the silence he observed was the clue to the mystery, for it was the dog that didn’t bark in the night that gave it away. Ask about the data you receive “What is not being said?” What is your newscaster, preacher, sales rep, politician, or advice-giving friend not saying?

Critical thinking receives anecdotes with a grain of salt. Two or three of your friends may have had a bad experience with a restaurant, but that does not make it conclusive that it is a bad restaurant. Two or three dozen of your friends on Facebook may share an opinion, but that is not necessarily an accurate representative of the population. Critical thinking refrains from making judgments about what “people are saying” or “everyone is talking about…”

Listening evaluatively tests its questions with other people, in conversation and dialogue, and welcomes corrections, suggestions, and constructive criticism. It is open to learning, growing, and changing its mind. Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations, “If any man is able to convince me and show me that what I think or do is not right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth, by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.”

The word “why” is the most powerful tool in critical thinking’s mental toolbox – not to confront, challenge, or dissuade, but out of curiosity, to know more, to understand basic assumptions, to put in context,       and to evaluate data and analyze its credibility. Weigh information with the questions asked by every reporter: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Listening evaluatively does not jump to conclusions without first allowing a fair hearing of the data. It does not prematurely reject a speaker’s ideas because of assumptions or prejudices about the speaker. It also filters out the sizzle as it zeroes in on the steak – preventing the mind from being swayed by the charismatic twinkle in the eye, humor, or a winsome personality.

Listening evaluatively is the mark of a thinking mind. After the wars of disinformation which we experienced in the past half decade, we must rethink how we listen and how we think. I crave evaluative listening skills for my grandchildren, for my neighbors and friends, for all who sit in the pews, for all who vote, and for all who watch, read, or listen to the news. But I cannot wish it for another until I engage in it myself. So, may I practice what I preach, and may all of us desire to grow in our skills as people who think critically and listen evaluatively.

The Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations for 22 years as a pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine. He is the author of more than 30 books and e-books. His most recent book from Judson Press is “Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance and Participation.

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Can Civility Be Restored in American Politics? Robert Parham – ethicsdaily

Can Civility Be Restored in American Politics? | Robert Parham, Civility, Presidential Election, Leadership

The Weekly Standard reported that Trump used some variation of “liar” or “lies” 10 times during the debate, Parham writes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Republican Party presidential candidates have demolished the wall of civility.

Let’s review what happened at the Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, home of a historic Baptist university, Furman; a very conservative university, Bob Jones; and a South Carolina Baptist university, North Greenville.

“You are the single biggest liar, you are probably worse than Jeb Bush,” Donald Trump fired at Ted Cruz.

Cruz returned the fire. “You notice that Donald didn’t disagree with the substance that he supports taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. And Donald has this weird pattern. When you point to his record, he screams ‘liar, liar, liar.'”

The Weekly Standard reported that Trump used some variation of “liar” or “lies” 10 times during the debate. Marco Rubio hurled a variant of the word five times.

It isn’t only the use of the word “liar,” however, that degrades civil discourse.

It’s also profanity. Profanity is a constant companion of Trump, whose every outing seems laced with swear words and in some cases vulgarity. He has torn down the partition between private and public foul language.

He drops the “f-bomb,” the “s-bomb,” the “p-bomb.” He uses the word “hell” repeatedly.

One of his supporters sought to justify Trump’s profanity because Trump was so passionate.

It goes beyond profanity in Trump’s case. He denigrates the disabled, says hateful things about women and maligns Mexicans as rapists.

Trump has now promised to halt his swearing. If past behavior is a predictor to future behavior, then that promise is likely an empty one. Nonetheless, one can hope his better angels will win the war for his soul.

Beyond Trump, one wonders if civility and decency can be restored?

Given the large percentage of evangelical voters in the Republican Party, a segment of Christianity that has prioritized piety and respectfulness, one would expect evangelical leaders to say enough is enough, no more potty-mouth pronouncements at podiums.

Given the large number of conservative voters, a group that values decency, one would think that conservative opinion-makers and leaders would call a halt to such destructive discourse.

Incivility is already surfacing on the Democratic side with Bill Clinton throwing the verbal fireball of “sexism” at Bernie Sanders.

Another Hillary Clinton supporter, Madeline Albright, said there was a “special place in hell” for women if they didn’t vote for Clinton.

In an attempt to apologize, she later justified her accusation based on being “excited” and having used the line a thousand times before to advocate for women.

If Republicans and Democrats don’t strive toward the restoration of civility now, imagine how out of control incivility will be in partisan races across the country.

Surely, advocacy for the return to civility is a commitment that churches can make across the theological spectrum.

Civility isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a moral issue – and one where churches can speak with authority.

Thankfully the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas has a free resource on civility from a biblical perspective.

“Anyone who pays attention to democracy and congregational churches knows the process of influencing and deciding can quickly slide toward volatile speech and personal attacks. There is, however, a better way – one that involves mutual respect as people contend with ideas. We call it acting with civility, and the Bible affirms this approach,” the document reads. “To be civil does not mean a refusal to contend for a position; it means we contend in a Christ-honoring manner.”

The piece includes a seven-point covenant for civility with each point identified with a passage of Scripture.

Yes, civility can be restored, especially if church leaders and members decide to be vocal advocates for civility.

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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Civility Is Up to Us

            What can we do to advance the cause of civility in today’s verbally toxic society? We must realize how powerful words are and how lethal they can be. Remember the admonition of Arthur Caliandro, former pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, “”I can never know just how my words will be received by their intended receiver.” Today we would have to add to that or by someone who hears my words through the media or other sources.

            Resolve not to add to the situation by responding with hostile remarks or actions. Don’t encourage explosive words from others or pass them on. Let those words languish where they are. Famed preacher/writer Norman Vincent Peale gave the best advice, “Don’t walk away from negative people. Run.”

            Recent racial remarks, acts of vandalism, and threats made against members of congress show just how far we have moved from a civil society. We have moved from attacking each other’s arguments to attempting to destroy each other both literally and figuratively. There is more than enough blame to go around, but assigning blame will not solve the problem. Who is to blame depends on our perspective.

            Acting with civility doesn’t mean giving up your ideas or accepting the opinions of others. It means respecting the other person. I love the story about the women playing bridge at Fort Hood. An older lady announced, “I am not going to sit here and listen to you telling lies about Ike.” She has the right approach.

            My father told me a wonderful story which has stayed with me about a men’s meeting. The guest speaker looked around the room and said, “I don’t see any ladies present and so I have a great story for you.”At that moment a man stood up and proclaimed, “No. There aren’t any ladies here, but there are some mighty fine gentlemen.”

            Taking personal responsibility for what goes on around us is not always easy or without personal risk; however, it is the only way to create an atmosphere that is conducive to productive, respectful dialogue.

            Practicing civility is more than not adding to the verbal poison; it also involves being a positive influence. We need to utter a kind word. We can encourage those around us. We can demonstrate that there is a better way to act. Look around you. There is someone close by who needs a cheerful, uplifting word from you.

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