WHEN MAN LISTENS
by Cecil Rose
Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges
In that one word more than half the trouble of the world is expressed.
We are living in a divided world. Every day brings news of the war of nations, of classes, or of economic groups. Self-interest, fear, bitter memory, national pride is splitting the human family into isolated fragments. Cooperation, which is the world’s most urgent need, becomes increasingly difficult.
Such a world of isolated groups, eyeing each other with growing suspicion over rising walls of misunderstanding, can only be the product of individuals who do not know how to live together. Selfishness, fear, resentment, pride, do not live in the air. They live in men. They only move States because they have the power to move us. We must look for the barriers which separate nations and classes, first in ourselves and our homes, and then in our daily contacts with those around us.
When we do look for those barriers close at hand their existence is evident enough. One man has described his home as “a filling-station by day and a parking place at night. That might stand as the classic description of thousands of home to-day. They are places where a number of people live under the same roof and feed at the same table, but hardly know anything of what is going on under the surface of each other’s lives. Husband and wife have been divided by all the accumulated reticences of years. The children are walled off from their parents by resentment of parental domination and lack of understanding. The parents themselves are shut in by their self-pity and exasperation at what seems the self-will and thoughtlessness of their children. Brothers and sisters, shy of one another, go each their own way.
Outside the home the same story is carried on. At school the child is too often afraid to tell his real difficulties to the teacher. He is afraid of being laughed at or punished. In the office men and women work together without getting to know each other. Jealousy, fear, incompatibility split them into cliques or leave one and another standing alone. In the factory the ‘boss’ is a remote and unknown being who only descends into the lives of the workpeople when something is wrong.
These are the raw materials of a divided world.
People who do not know each other and have little inkling of each other’s difficulties or aims cannot create a united world. They are certain to misinterpret each other. Sooner or later they will quarrel.
The most frequent reason for our isolation is fear. It is fear which makes us hide.
We are afraid of many things. We fear the loss of reputation. We think that if other people saw what we are really like they would laugh at our mistakes and despise us for our failures. So we cover up our mistakes and failures with silence or self-excuse. We pose as confident, when we are nothing of the kind. The face we present to the world is really a mask.
We are afraid in business. We are expecting the other man to steal a march on us. So we work in the dark. We are not going to give him the chance to get in first. We disguise our intentions. And thus we help to create the atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust in which the world lives.
We are afraid of being found out and compelled to let go some of the practices or some of our relationships. If our family only knew–if our business associates or employers only knew–there would have to be a change. We do not want to change. We should hate to change. And so those little reticences and petty deceptions begin and grow until we are living two lives–the one other people see and the one we hope they do not see!
Frankness, trust, understanding, free and happy cooperation cannot exist between people who are hiding from each other.
We greatly need to come out into the open–to take off the mask and drop the pose, and to be our real selves, honest about our mistakes and sins, frank about our thoughts and intentions, willing to let other people know us. Isolated, secretive living is bad for the world and bad for us. It not only builds barriers between us and those we live with, but it shuts us in on ourselves and breeds the loneliness, morbidity, repression, and distorted outlook from which a great deal of our mental and spiritual sickness comes.
When a man does come out into the open in all his relationships with others, the effect is revolutionary. A journalist apologizes to the assembled pressmen of another country for the bitterness of his articles, and at once a door is opened to new understanding between two nations. A statesman admits in an international council that his country’s policy has been mistaken and offers reconsideration of the issue, and immediately a breath of fresh air blows through world affairs. The representative of a large firm puts all his cards on the table before his competitors, and a threatened price war is called off. A father who has tried many ways of getting his daughter to be frank comes off his pedestal and begins telling her of some of his own difficulties. The prompt and unhesitating response is a flood of confidences and the beginning of a new relationship. Two brothers have long been careful only to let each other see selected portions of their lives. They discover that in this life-long game of hide-and-seek, they have actually been fighting a lonely battle against the same temptations; now they tell each other of their victories and defeats.
These are real people from a growing company of men and women who are breaking down barriers and creating new relationships by their simple honesty about themselves. They are prepared to pocket their pride, risk their reputation, hazard their material interests, for the sake of living in the open with their fellows. They are creating a new atmosphere in every community into which they go. They are breaking down the barriers, and opening up the way–the way to a different world.
In this different world we shall not only know each other; we shall trust each other.
You cannot work with other men satisfactorily unless you trust them and they trust you. You will not trust them while you suspect that they have an axe of their own to grind. They will not trust you while you are holding on to anything which you are not willing to yield up for the common good. It is this holding on to our own private aims, our own private interests, our own private possessions which splits up any community. It divides nation or family into separate and competing factions and individuals, who only hold together so long as their interests do not clash.
A belief in the other man’s disinterestedness is the only basis on which men and women can live and work together in an unbreakable fellowship. The real problem of life today is to create trust.
Imagine for a moment an international conference, a meeting of employers and employees, a church committee or just two people seeking the settlement of a dispute, which each believes the other to be entirely free from private aims, and concerned with nothing but the common interest of both sides! What need to say more? At that level the major problems of mankind disappear.
Trust is not created by waiting for the other man. It begins to form and grow around those who give themselves utterly to other people. Jesus’ answer to a divided world was to give the whole of Himself to others, and so to create around Him a little community where trust and cooperation had been generated by self-giving. That community–at first only twelve men–was the growing point of the new world. The living cells of the new world today will be companies of men and women, in home, business, town, and nation, who have learned to trust each other and live without barriers.
There is no other solution. There is no other way by which the creative love of God can get out into the world to form a new trusting relationship between men, except through a self giving like Christ’s.
It must be like Christ’s; substitutes do not work. Many of us give to other people, but we give “things” and not “ourselves”. There are plenty of employers who give their work people good wages and a bright welfare-centre, but no personal interest and concern such as would establish a real relationship of confidence. There are parents who give their children a comfortable home and good education, but keep themselves spiritually remote. There are lots of us who give the money to meet all kinds of needs in other people, but fail to meet their deepest need of friendship. And when we do try to help others in their personal problems we give them good advice from a slightly elevated pedestal, instead of laying beside them our own deepest experiences of God and sin, of victory and defeat, so that first they lose their loneliness and then they begin to see, through our confidences, how God deals with a need like theirs.
Self-giving will certainly mean that our time and money, and our strength, are entirely at the disposal of other people as God directs, so that those others begin to realize that we shall withhold nothing from them for selfish reasons, or because we shirk the cost. One of the characteristics of Jesus was this complete availability. But real self-giving will mean that we make available to men more than our time and strength and possessions. It will mean that we are prepared to share with them the innermost core of our life–our temptations, our difficulties, our sins, and discoveries of God–‘if these can be used to help them and bring them to God.
Our self-giving is not complete until no pride or fear, no pain or shame, will prevent us giving all of ourselves to another in his need.
People sometimes say, ‘Oh, but these things are too sacred to talk about!’ In all too many cases that is the defence of people who have precious little to tell, and whose experience of God is not vivid and joyful enough to make them want to pass it on. In other cases it is a form of spiritual selfishness. How should we have had the story of the Temptation in the Wilderness, the glimpse into the disquieted soul of Jesus as He saw the approaching end, or the most intimate words of Gethsemane, unless Jesus had told His secrets to the disciples? How could we have learned what God could do with a man like Paul unless Paul himself had been willing to tell, humbly and honestly, what he was like before God changed him? We are under an unpayable debt to men like St. Augustine, Brother Lawrence, John Wesley, and a great unnamed company of men and women who have been willing to let us see, in the inner history of their own souls, how God deals with sin.
It is self-giving at this level which establishes the deepest and strongest personal relationships between men and women, and it was on the basis of such relationships that Christ proposed to build the new world. The fellowship thus created was to be in the world what Paul described as ‘a colony of heaven,’ a centre of civilizing power. This is the function of the real Church. We are rather apt to confuse the Church with the loose associations of men and women who happen to worship in the same building, or meet each other in the running of various organizations, but many of whom hardly know each other’s names and have little interchange beyond remarks about the weather. These associations are not ‘Churches.’ They are ‘potential Churches,’ and often have a nucleus of men and women in real fellowship with each other. But the living, functioning Church of Christ exists only where men and women are really giving themselves to each other in unreserved personal relationships.
It is this kind of fellowship that the Christian is called to create around him. Nothing less will save the world from chaos.
This way of living, which breaks down barriers and builds up trust, can be conveniently described in one word–Sharing.
Sharing can be defined as being honest with other people about yourself. It means being willing (for God’s purposes) to give the whole of yourself to anyone. It does not mean telling everything about yourself to everybody you meet. It does mean being willing to tell anything to anyone–if God shows you that your sharing can be useful in establishing a new and deeper relationship, or in helping another person to find God.
Real sharing can be very costly. If some of us are to restore the right relationship with those round us –perhaps a husband, a wife, a child; perhaps those who work with or for us; perhaps someone who attends the same Church–it will mean facing crucifixion. To let them see what we are really like will cost no less. And if we are going to let God take us right into the lives of other people, with the love that pours itself out to them, it will mean the Cross again. To share Himself with the world meant that for Christ. The price of redeeming relationships with men and women is always the Cross.
Sharing has to be learnt. We cannot really make ourselves known to others until we have been introduced to ourselves, and one of the serious effects of our reserve and spiritual isolation is that we have become strangers to our own souls. God has to bring us right out into the light, where we can see ourselves stripped of self-deception and face thee naked truth about our actions, our thoughts and our motives.
One of God’s most effective ways of introducing us to ourselves is to send us to another person, whom we can trust, to tell them the whole truth about our lives as far as we know it. Quite apart from the fact that it is a healthy and liberating thing to unburden ourselves, the necessity of putting into words to another person the hard facts about our sin makes us see it more clearly and hate it more thoroughly. Besides which, the other person will probably see things in us to which we are blind, and will help us to see them. God has given us this invaluable gift of fellowship as one of the most effective means to real self-knowledge, penitence, and new life and we lose something vital if we shrink from the humiliating but liberating experience.
If we are to go on being honest with others we must go on being honest with ourselves. Life moves ahead and fresh discoveries about ourselves have to be made, fresh difficulties faced, or sins confessed. That is why we must seek frequent fellowship of the kind in which we can talk over these discoveries without reserve. If we cannot find this quality of fellowship with several people, we can begin with one, so long as we do not remain content with one.
Sharing of this kind is thoroughly wholesome if it is seen as a means of keeping spiritually fit and free for God’s use, and if it issues in practical steps to put right what is wrong. It keeps the system free from any accumulation of poisons.
It is as we learn in this way to be honest with ourselves and others, to take off the mask and drop the pose, to step out from behind our reserve and pride, that we become citizens of God’s new world–men and women around whom a new honesty and trust begins to grow.
When we learn to share, each of us becomes a living cell in that new world.