Life in Community

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Life in Community

Overcoming Opinions

September 6, 2017 by

men talking

Opinions! Everybody has opinions. People have opinions on what to do about climate change. They have opinions about race relations. They have opinions about how to police our cities. There are opinions on what to do about immigrants; about how to run our government, about how to treat foreign governments, and about anything else you can think of. We’re usually willing to give our opinions, and to argue in their defense.

An opinion can often be the result of listening to propaganda – information designed to convince us of something. Often it is not based on real knowledge or experience. Our opinions are also influenced by our emotions, feelings which persist from experiences we hardly can remember. And of course we absorb the opinions of our parents, our friends, and the members of our culture.

It’s often said: “Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.” Maybe so, but are all opinions of equal value? Democracy says yes, they are: the majority opinion should rule, and the minority can go lick their wounds. But the will of the majority does not always bring good results. In most cases, we cannot vote on issues, but only for people – people who often don’t, or can’t do, what they promised.

There ought to be a better way of making decisions, and there is, but the road to it leads through the depths of our hearts and our beliefs.

What is the Bruderhof's approach to decision-making?

All the people on this earth have only this earth to live on, and to live from. As our numbers increase, and our technology becomes more powerful, the strain we put on this planet’s resources becomes greater. We seem to have already passed the tipping point. If we continue to settle our differences of opinion by force – by politics and war – we will destroy all that we need to survive, more or less rapidly depending on the details. But ultimately war and famine will overtake us all. There is no practical possibility of moving to Mars, let alone anywhere light-years away! We have gotten to this point of no return by making or supporting decisions largely based on selfishness and the “profit motive,” and it is leading to disaster.

So it becomes terribly important that some good decisions be made, and that we all stand behind them.

If we could stop all wars, if we could give up our military establishments and activities, and if we could break with politics and stop trying to push our opinions through by some kind of force, what a tremendous saving of resources, energy, labor, and lives could be realized! But this will only be possible if we can stop fighting over our opinions!

A person’s opinion or decision is trustworthy only if he or she understands all sides of an issue, and is not invested in the matter for his or her own (or any particular party’s) advantage. People like that are hard to find, but unless we find them and ask them to lead, and trust their leading, there is not much hope.

I believe that we must start by believing that there is a God who cares about all people, and who wants us all to work together for a world in which everybody has what they need to survive. The only faith I am familiar enough with to talk about is my own, the faith in Jesus Christ.

Only if we are open and honest with one another can we preserve trust.

Someone who has really found faith in Jesus, and who is determined to seek God’s will in everything he does, will want to do what is good for everyone, and will not seek his own advantage. (I grant that throughout history, a great deal of harm has been done by those who called themselves Christians, but I do not believe those things were done in obedience to the commands of Jesus.) If a follower of Jesus is also able to get sound advice, and to gather trustworthy information, he will have worthwhile opinions, and will be able to make good decisions. He may not literally hear God speaking to him, but he will seek and expect God’s guidance in what he does. We need to find and recognize such people, listen to them, and trust them.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is within reach. Where we find harmony and mutual trust among people, we know Jesus is at work. At the Bruderhof, one vital discipline we seek to uphold is straight speaking: as soon as we realize that we are upset by someone’s words or actions, we go directly to that person and try to find common ground and reconciliation. Only by keeping the pathways between us clear and open in this way can we preserve trust in one another. Trust must start at the level of individuals, but on that basis we can then solve larger problems in group meetings. Our common dedication to Jesus, and to obeying his will, makes it possible to come to unity on any important question. We may still differ in our opinions to some degree, but we can agree on large decisions, and on appointing certain members to be responsible for the smaller decisions.

We have no other model or suggestion for our culture, our country, and our world than this. We have no other solutions to offer, to avert the catastrophe which seems to loom over our world. Behind the power in such community, which we know can overcome all differences of opinion, we recognize Jesus.

Dick Thomson lives at Bellvale, a Bruderhof in Chester, New York. He and his late wife, Collette, were married for fifty-eight years and have eight children, thirty-seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Dick worked as a microbiologist before joining the Bruderhof. He has since worked in computer programming and in the Community Playthings workshop.


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