I just finished reading Adam Savage’s Every tool’s a hammer: Life is what you make it. In the book, Savage, one of the stars of Mythbusters, talks about his life as a maker. One chapter is devoted to sharing and it struck me as particularly powerful.
Savage says, “I’ve run into many people who don’t believe in sharing their work, or more specifically that sharing their work, their methodologies, their custom processes, even their enthusiasm, incurs a direct cost to them…. Why would you not want to share the things you love? Why would you not want to share the cool things you’ve made? Or the triumph of a challenging project you’ve overcome with your friends? Why would you hide the knowledge you’ve acquired over the years or pretend that your hopes and dreams aren’t worth shouting from the rooftops? In my experience the more you give away the richer you will be.”
The same can be said for theologising. Rather than trying to protect the truth and putting it in a box — as if the truth needs protecting and as if I have a corner on that truth — it might be better to share the truths that I have come to know so that I can learn from the truths that others have come to know and that together we can journey towards the Truth!
This is because the opposite of sharing is selfishness.
Mikhail Bakhtin likened this kind of selfishness to monologue. For Bakhtin, monologue isn’t the carefully created comedic routine of the standup comedian. Rather monologue is the predominance of one voice over and above all other voices. It’s when, for example, one group, one church, one person, or one coalition claims to have a corner on the truth and subsequently rejects, silences, or bids farewell to any other voices. In many ways it sees other voices as opposing voices rather than voices to chat with. These are “It’s my way or the highway” kinds of voices.
Bakhtin saw truth as being discovered through dialogue. As he says in his Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction.” This solution was what he called dialogic and heteroglossia, or the recognition of other voices in the conversation.
It’s only through dialogue that I can see the Other’s perspective. Usually in theology we come into a situation with a pre-defined perspective — of darkness and light, good and evil, insiders and outsiders, sheep and goats, etc. These are certainly biblical concepts that describe the world. However, where it all falls apart is when I begin placing people into these various categories without actually finding out if in fact they should be placed there! It also falls apart when I miss whether I myself need to be placed into the negative category. What I mean is that the tendency we have when reading scripture is to place ourselves in the role of the hero when in fact we may be the villain.
Case in point is the story of the prodigal son. We all like to identify with the prodigal son, who goes away and lives a wasteful, sinful life before repenting and returning to his father. While the father is the true hero of the story, it’s the prodigal who does the right thing. What I have yet to hear preached (nor have I myself preached) is a sermon where I identify with the older brother, who starts out inside his father’s home but ends the story outside the home. The son who is the bad guy. The fact that, even though both sons are given equal time in the parable, we identify the parable as being about the prodigal son proves my point.
When I engage in dialogue with others, when I share with them and when they share with me, I discover things about them that I didn’t know and about myself that I also didn’t know. Because we have now shared our stories, we can begin a journey together towards a proper relationship with God.
But I do have a confession. Even though I enjoy discovering truth together with someone else, I am not really that good at doing it. I prefer to be right. I prefer to be the one that people listen to. I prefer to already have the answer figured out. It’s hard for me to sit and listen rather than sit and think about what I will say next. I need to continue to work on listening rather than answering.
I’m curious as to your take on this, which is why comments have been enabled on this blog post. Is it easy for you to engage in dialogue? Please share your thoughts below.
Sharing is what friends do.
Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.