Discernment / The Skill

Discernment 101c: Liking it or Getting it

In an increasingly pluralistic and technological world like ours, hardly a week goes past without the possibility of being confronted with some new artifact of popular culture. It may be a new band, a new television series, or a new film—and often we are introduced to whatever it is by someone who thinks it’s great. “Listen to this song,” they’ll say enthusiastically. “What do you think?”

We usually assume they are really asking, “Do you like it?” They may even ask us if we like it. Which may produce an awkward pause. We hesitate because we don’t want to hurt their feelings, but the hesitation tells them all they need to know.

At this point I want to speak to members of my own tribe, namely to Christians. And what I want to say is this: it doesn’t matter if we like it or not. What matters is whether we get it.

The most difficult task in a pluralistic world is not learning about the various and diverse worldviews that inform the lives, minds and hearts of our neighbors. True, learning about them takes time and effort in our busy world, but loving our neighbor and serving our Lord requires us to make that investment. More difficult is finding a way to imaginatively inhabit our neighbor’s worldview so we can see life and reality from within it. To walk, for a few moments, in the proverbial shoes of the other person, which allows us a glimpse of the yearnings, ideas, values, dreams, hopes and fears that animate them.

Art in general, and popular culture in particular, can act like a window of insight into the heart and soul of our neighbors. If I am to follow my Lord, Christ, into the world, I must not squander the chance to see through that window because I don’t happen to like something. Seen from this perspective, in fact, allowing my likes and dislikes into the conversation is nothing less than a supreme act of selfishness. My neighbor is made in God’s image, so they must be treated with dignity, which means that I will want to get—comprehend, appreciate, receive, embrace, imaginatively inhabit—what seems to resonate in their soul.

I am not advocating a technique to allow better conversations and deeper relationships, though I think both are at stake. I am suggesting something far deeper, and that is this: in such encounters the Christian should put the other person ahead of themselves, always and in every way. It’s a transformation of perspective in which the conversation is turned upside down. Even if my friend asks me if I like it, I will act as if the vital thing is that they like it, and that I’d like nothing more than to share in their delight.

This immediately suggests all sorts of things I can say when my neighbor asks me what I think or whether I like it. How did you discover it? What do you hear (see)? What does it say to you? How did you feel when you first heard (saw) it? This is so fascinating—tell me about it. What do you know about the musician (band, director)? And so on.

One of the greatest gifts I can give in our overly busy world is a winsome eagerness to be in a conversation where my likes and dislikes do not dominate. A conversation in which I grant you the dignity that comes from truly hearing you.

I am not suggesting that this will necessarily be the full extent of the conversation. There are honest questions that can be raised to take the conversation to deeper levels. Why does this speak to you so deeply? What reasons would you give for believing this message is true?
Still, I would argue it is the place to begin. After all, my not liking something may be my problem, while my getting it is my calling.


This brief piece expands on “Discernment 101: An explanation of discernment,” on Ransom’s web site.