Everything tells the truth about something. Not everything tells the truth in an objective-truth or true versus false sort of way, but everything tells the truth about something – about us, God, culture, the tendencies of our hearts – and we need to listen. We need to listen to individual human beings – the physical, oxygen-consuming, food-eating, growing, changing, souls and bodies with whom we live life. And we need to listen to culture – the pulse of a collection of humans. Edward Schein says, “Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organization’s view of its self and its environment.”
We’ve got to listen for truth in culture so that we can understand those unconsciously operating basic assumptions and figure out how to deal with, work with, and love the individuals in that culture. The trick lies in discerning and reading into what is really being said, and not mindlessly consuming and internalizing things on the one hand or rejecting the whole as false. It’s not always necessary to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A lot can be learned from statements that aren’t truth but are nevertheless very instructive in their own way. Let me see if I can explain myself..
Let’s take Jason Derulo’s song “In my head.” Not a particularly “wholesome” song (before we use the word wholesome, let’s define it as “conducive to or promoting moral well-being”). But hear the truth in the lyrics: “Everybody’s looking for love. Ain’t that the reason you’re at this club?” Why yes, Jason, it is the reason people are at that club. People are desperate for love and look for it in cheap ways (could go on with this, but we won’t). That one line speaks volumes about the state of culture and our hearts. Like I said, the song itself really isn’t wholesome or worth listening to much, but it’s instructive in its own way.
Similarly, let’s take Sam Smith. Wow, what an artist. He truly makes good music. The moving music of his hit song “Stay with me” matches the mood of the lyrics. And I love it. I think the lyrics resonate with people because, whether they realize it or not, the words speak truth of humanity: “Deep down I know this never works. But you can lay with me so it doesn’t hurt. Oh won’t you stay with me?” Again, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! If I blindly ingest this song I will believe that the cry of “won’t you stay with me, cause you’re all I need” is true for me, when I know it is not. But if I throw the whole song out, I miss out on understanding another little piece of culture (not to mention I miss out on a great piece of art). There’s a middle ground.
The same goes for Mika (opera-trained, turned pop. Really an interesting guy) in his song “The Origin of Love”:
Like stupid Adam and Eve they found their love in a tree
God didn’t think they deserved it
He taught them hate, taught them pride
Gave them a leaf, made them hide
Let’s push their stories aside
You know the origin is you
In case you didn’t guess, the “you” at the end refers to a significant other. That speaks pretty directly to spiritual beliefs and worldview. I don’t agree with what he implies, but it certainly gives me insight into what he believes about the origin of love, sin, etc. and possibly how other people might think.
I could go on and on with pop music or movie examples. But what about individuals? Do you know who Andrew Hozier-Byrne is? You need to listen to what he has to say. I bet you know his song, “Take me to church.” What an enchanting song! When I first heard it, I was captivated by it but couldn’t quite figure out what the lyrics said and the meaning behind them. When I found out, I was sobered. The song is loaded. Art in general is loaded. Art is the pulse of culture. Watch this:
We need to listen. My goodness, we need to listen. Most importantly to the everyday sort of people in our lives. People are so interesting! I need to stop assuming that I will agree or disagree with someone, that I know where they’re coming from, or that I know what they think. How much can be learned if we lean in to listen to other people and discern in their words the truth about them. Listen for the sake of understanding. Stephen Covey says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This type of understanding-listening has to happen on the individual and cultural levels. And then understand with the intent to do something with it. To love better, engage more meaningfully, change more completely. Yesterday I learned that “in anthropology, there are two types of field research: Etic and Emic. Etic researchers make their observations from outside the culture. Emic researchers get up-close to local customs, traditions, and beliefs” (John Sowers). I want to be an emic person. Not easy, not clean, not tidy.
We can’t understand and discern without listening. For our sake and each other’s sake, we’ve got to listen and we’ve got to figure out what type of truth is being revealed in any given speech, movie. comment, song, or piece of art. For my sake I’ve got to listen so I can differentiate between objective truth on the one hand, and instructive truth on the other, which informs me about a certain person or culture. For my neighbors’ sake I’ve got to listen so that I fully understand and from that understanding act in love and truly enter into others’ lives.
“It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another.”