A policeman was heading home after a long, hard day on patrol. He had dealt with a whole succession of difficult people, and a mountain of frustrating paperwork. All he wanted at this point was to kick back, unwind, enjoy some peace and quiet, and maybe watch a few innings of baseball on TV.
But, as he neared home, he was startled by a vehicle that came careening around a sharp curve and narrowly missed his squad car. As the car passed within a few inches of him, the other driver shouted “Pig!”
The police officer was suddenly energized. He slammed on brakes, all set to turn his squad car around and head off in hot pursuit. But as he rounded the curve, … he ran head-on into a large pig that was standing in the middle of the road!
It’s a lesson we learn early in life if we’re lucky: don’t assume! No matter how confident we are in our understanding of the issue. No matter how certain of another’s reasoning or motives. No matter how obvious the point may be to us. Effective communication is far more complicated and difficult than we think. With barriers like cultural differences, personal “filters,” different definitions, etc., it’s amazing that any of us ever understand one another. But these aren’t the most difficult obstacles. The biggest reason we aren’t able to hear what another is saying to us is simply… “fear!”
Oh, we may camouflage it behind anger, self-importance or any number of other false fronts, but at the root is fear. Fear of being “found out,” or of being disappointed, or of not getting what we want. It’s a powerful if crippling motivator. And most of us can summon up plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t take another at face value. Honest communication requires trust, and taking a risk. And we’ve been burned too many times. So we settle for safety, make the natural assumption, and run head-on into our own version of that pig as we journey down life’s highway!
There is a better way. A way that recognizes our similarities. That sees others as a source of community and healing. That looks past our own frustration and previous disappointments to explore the possibility that even a “stranger” may have something positive to say. The Apostle Paul described it in Corinthians, chapter 13. It’s the “higher way” of love. I almost hesitate to use that term these days because of the way our culture misuses it. But when you read Paul’s description, try substituting “maturity.” It’s a perfect fit. The risks are higher for this way of living, but so are the rewards.
Another (anonymous) writer cautions:
“To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas, your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing and is nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. Chained by their certitudes they are a slave, they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.”
That doesn’t mean we should be naive. It does mean we should be careful what we assume. Check it out. Give others the benefit of the doubt. And if someone shouts something unexpected at us, at least entertain the possibility that perhaps it may be more than a personal insult. Who knows, that approach could change our life.
By CAPT J. David Atwater, CHC, USN