Take a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes: Kindness & Perspective Taking w/ Richard Mouw
If you’re not kind on the inside, in your inner self-talk about others, how can you be truly kind to others in your outward actions? Richard Mouw and Tim Muehlhoff talk about civility, respect for those you disagree with, and “perspective taking.”
You point out in your book on common decency, you talk about inner politeness, which I thought was very interesting because if my self-talk is always negative towards you, my opponent, that is just simply going to bleed out into the relationship and so I love the idea that you bring up that we have to check our self-talk even toward other people and if that inner politeness isn’t there, then sure enough that’s gonna bleed into uncivil communication with the people that we oppose, but how do we cultivate that inner politeness?
Well I think that, again, I think those of us who believe in Go and believe that we live our lives before the face of God, and that God knows us better than we know ourselves, it’s precisely that openness that I think if one spends time in the presence of God, asking God to show us our sin. You know John Calvin said that the law is a kind of mirror that we look into, and we see how far we are from the righteousness of God. Once we’ve done that, it seems to me that it would be very hard to go to another human being and say, I have it all right and I have nothing to learn from you about how you see me. I mean it’s one thing to talk about that person’s deepest convictions, but its another thing to, I mean if we look at some of the biggest controversies, we’ve often in the past talked about evangelistic crusades, and not realized what that word crusade means to our Muslim neighbor. And just to ask them that question and to see that what seems to us a very innocent kind of thing about a bunch of meetings carries a lot of historical baggage with it. I think to be honest people before God is also to be honest before other people.
And I think what you’re advocating, Richard, is what we call perspective-taking. It’s to step out of my perspective long enough to see the world how you’ve constructed it, how you created it. And one thing that you did that I found fascinating when it comes to the whole sexuality issue is that you went to an Episcopal mass for gay parishioners, and you actually sat in that mass along with them. Can I ask you, what do you think was the value of that and was there any pushback from people saying, but aren’t you condoning what they’re doing. So what was the value, and what was the pushback?
Well first of all, I talked a lot about that subject, so I thought I’d ought to experience it first hand. People who disagree with me but nonetheless find it necessary to come together and worship God. And so I thought I could sit in the back, but when I got there, all the back seats were taken, and I could do nothing but sit in the midst of what was largely a gay/lesbian audience, congregation. And the two things that just overwhelmed me, was one, we prayed Psalm 139, when I was in my mother’s womb, you knit my parts together. To hear people around me saying this God who knit me together as a human person. But then at a certain point when we had the purge for the dead which I’m not used to, and the priest says a lot of you have lost people to HIV AIDS, just speak out the name of a person you have loved who died of HIV AIDS. And it began with just kind of simple, Marlene, Harry, and pretty soon it became thunderous, and people were sobbing. And I thought you know, these are grieving people, people who’ve experience tremendous loss, and I felt a solidarity with them, a bonding with them in their sobbing that if I’d been arguing with them about their views or how you interpret Romans one or something like that, it would’ve been a very different experience. But there was something wonderful about that, and I experienced that as a gift. I didn’t change my theology or my ethics, but to see they’re human I think is a very important thing.