I once listened to an interview with the late Howard Baker, Republican Senator from Tennessee. As the Senate Majority Leader, he led the Watergate Investigation of President Nixon, the head of his own party. Senator Baker was the one who famously wanted answers to this question from every witness, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”
The interviewer asked Senator Baker two important questions and his answers show how far civility in Washington has fallen. The first was, “How were you able to prosecute the president, the leader of your own party?” “That’s easy. Because I’m a citizen and Senator first and a Republican second. Civics is doing what’s best for the nation, or your community. Politics is doing what’s best for your party. Civics must always trump politics.”
The second question was directed more at how Senator Baker was able to work with Democrats on issues on which they had stark differences. His answer startled me with it’s application for today.
I approached every issue saying to myself, ‘I could be wrong.’ You see, if we think we have all the correct answers and solutions, there’s absolutely no point in considering the other person’s point of view. But if I admitted ‘I could be wrong,’ then that compelled me to listen to the other side and find out where I was wrong. Once I found my error, or discovered some virtue in their proposal or bill, and admitted it to them, suddenly I found they would do the same with me, and give me, or our party the benefit of the doubt. Then we’d find enough common ground to proceed.
The practical application of I could be wrong, works in marriage, church, business or friendships. Christians, of all people, know how flawed we are by sin. And the sin at the root of most conflict, is self-deceit.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
Does this sound familiar? Once I get it in my head that I’m right and she, or they are wrong, subconsciously I look for evidence to bolster my argument and dismiss automatically arguments that don’t, which hardens me even more in my position. But if and when I’m spiritual enough and can say to myself, “I could be wrong,” it compels me to listen more to find something true and virtuous in the other person’s position.
With America so divided, we’re tempted to throw up our hands in frustration that nothing can be done. However, environmentalists have a motto, “Think globally, but act locally.” The application for us in America is this. You and I cannot change America, but we can change ourselves.
So, today consider a relationship with conflict you are currently in. Take a risk and say to yourself, “I could be wrong,” and mean it. Then look for something, anything that might be true or good in the other person’s argument and admit that to them. The power of humility is such that it can lubricate almost every tense relationship. Do it because it’s the right thing to do, even if you never win the other person over.
“Do not think or yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment…” Romans 12:3
You might enjoy watching this short video: