After all, we rely on assumptions to build routines that help us get things done, and help us move through our days. These become helpful norms and even sometimes laws – like driving on the right hand side of the road. But occasionally our assumptions and our perceptions need to be challenged and our blind spots revealed to us, uncomfortable as that may be. The history of the United States is all about challenging assumptions and norms, from the power of the church to influence society, to colonial ideas about slavery to the sanctity of heterosexuality. I’m certain you can think of other examples.
In the early 19th century, there were ‘pamphlet wars’ in our cities, as people (men) argued theological and philosophical viewpoints. By distributing flyers and holding town hall meetings and lectures, respected voices of the time challenged one another. These highly attended events served to inform the public and clarify its values as people learned and conversed about the issues of the day, face to face or through the more reflective process of writing.
My point is not that technology has changed the way we communicate although it has. It’s easy to remain removed from the impacts of our words through the Internet. There are more avenues to say things thoughtlessly without repercussions than avenues where we might see or realize their effect. We can easily say what we want and think the job is done when more is needed, in fact.
In life, it’s important to have opportunities to be challenged and forced to reflect, to know people who will reasonably and respectfully question our perceptions, assumptions and opinions. Trusted challengers are as important as the cheerleaders who root for us unconditionally, maybe more so because they push us to face difficult truths, truths we’d maybe rather not acknowledge or address. Like the Prophets, they play the role of calling us to courage, humility, and greater vulnerability. They make us better and we need them, individually and collectively.
When we open ourselves to trust someone, we also have an obligation to be trustworthy to them. The person whose insight and guidance we ask for takes the risk of going against what we wish to hear, of being unpopular with us, that if we are displeased, we might cast aspersions upon them, dismiss them or deny the truth they are revealing. When this happens, the strength of many relationships may be diminished.
Close to home, this might be a family member. In our larger community, this might be a newspaper, a politician, a filmmaker or a faith leader. Consider how important trusted media will be in the years ahead. As people of faith it is important that we actively and wholeheartedly support the truth-tellers, from teachers to news outlets to politicians Democrat, Republican and others, to church leaders and artists, as uncomfortable as they may make us. If we entrust them to speak to us of truth, it is because we want to know and grow and keep bending the arc of life towards justice. Let us treat them well.